Morris Weissbrot – The Voice of US Weightlifting
© by Arthur Drechsler
For those who were involved in weightlifting in the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s, particularly in the Northeast, one voice was more synonymous with the sport than perhaps any other – the deep, booming yet soothing voice of Morris Weissbrot. Morris attended virtually every competition from Boston to New York and from York PA to Washington DC during those years. Once there, he often manned the microphone for the entire competition. His voice was both talented and indefatigable. In an era when weightlifting competitions had no time limits between attempts, included 3 lifts (the press in addition to the snatch and C&J) and always presented a bodybuilding show at the end, from the moment the program started until in concluded many hours later, Morris kept it all interesting. Morris’s partner in weightlifting, Rudy Sablo, kept the competition legal. They were an inseparable and invaluable team.
The golden Weissbrot voice was part comic, part cheerleader, part historian, part biographer, part technical expert and all enthusiast. He could keep the audience entertained with his endless repository of jokes, exhort the crowd to support a lifter who really needed help, inform the spectators about the historical significance of a given lift (“this will be Stan’s 8th straight championship”), make a lifter real to the fans (“Larry just returned from his honeymoon last week”) and tell a mystified crowd just why a lift was turned down by the referees (to Rudy’s great consternation). His capabilities did not go unnoticed by the outside world. ABC’s Wide World of Sports employed him as a color commentator for weightlifting on more than one occasion.
Morris’s voice found other expressions as well – often in print. A prolific writer, he was probably best known for his long running series in Strength & Health (S&H) magazine during the mid-60’s regarding Polish training methods. Some may remember that during that time, the Polish weightlifting team, under the guidance of head coach, Klemens Roguski, mounted a credible challenge to the existing Soviet supremacy in weightlifting. On the basis of his expertise in the fields of weightlifting and education, the US Dept. of State selected Morris to represent the US on a 2 month trip to Poland to study their training methods. There he made friends with the Polish team and learned much from the Polish coaches and lifters. Returning to the US, he relayed what he had learned to the readers of S&H, many of whom found this information to be their first peak behind the then “Iron Curtain” training methods.
Many people knew Morris only through his announcing and writing, but there were countless other facets to his talents and his contributions to the sport of weightlifting. He and Rudy ran the first Junior (then teenage) weightlifting camp organized by USA Weightlifting (then the Weightlifting Committee of the AAU). It was sponsored by the York Barbell Co., in York, PA in 1966 (an encore followed in 1967). The alumni of those 2 week camps read like a who’s who of weightlifting: Phil Grippaldi, Frank Capsouras, Jack Hill, Tom Hirtz, Rich Holbrook and Steve Zeigman (all of whom went on to become National or World Record Holders) among others. A few years later, Morris and Rudy made the first Federation sponsored instructional movie on weightlifting in the US (there were only movies in those days, no videos).
An able administrator, Morris was chairman of the Metropolitan AAU Weightlifting Committee from 1952- 1958. He then served under two Presidents as the Secretary of the National Weightlifting Committee of the AAU (the USAW’s predecessor). He also served on the technical and the coaching committees for many years. Internationally, he was a Category I International Referee and in 1974 he and Rudy Sablo conducted one of the first FICH (today IWF) international coaching/technical clinics in IWF history.
“Red” (as he was known during the relatively brief period when he had bushy flock of red hair), was a coach or manager for several US International Teams during the 1970’s and 1980’s, including the Maccabiah Games in 1969 and the 1980 Americas Cup (an international competition scheduled for countries that boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow). He also toured Asia for the US military teaching our troops and US allies the value of weightlifting.
Having earned his BA in Business Administration in 1941, Morris put a hold on his career to serve his country bravely during WWII, nearly losing his life on several occasions during the war. The injuries he sustained included severe damage to his leg and he took up weight training in an effort to rehab that leg. Always an organizer, shortly after taking up weightlifting, he founded a weightlifting club in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. He was also became a member of the famous Cooper A.C., and he founded the Electchester Weightlifting Club in 1957, after moving to Flushing, Queens.
By 1960, Morris had come to the realization that the future of weightlifting depended largely on its youth, and that the schools were where you could reach that youth. So he sold a successful business and obtained a Master Degree, which enabled him to become a teacher. After doing so, he worked tirelessly to bring scholastic acceptance to the sport he loved and eventually was able to get the Board of Regents (which governs education in NY) to accept weightlifting as a sport. He also worked with other educators to create the first High School Weightlifting Championships in NYC history and he was one of the administrators most responsible for the creation to the Teenage National (today Jr. National) championships.
After carrying out his teaching duties during the day, Morris worked for the NYC Dept. of Parks & Recreation at night and during the summers. It was in this role that he was to establish one of the longest running weightlifting programs in the US. Assigned to Lost Battalion Hall in Rego Park, NY, he soon began to scout the building for a suitable weightlifting site. He found a little used store room and received permission to clear it out. He then obtained some weights and in 1961 he started a club. Within a few years, LBH had become a hotbed of junior lifting, while at the same time hosting more senior lifters, like national weightlifting and powerlifting champion Larry Mintz, and Junior World Record Holder, Victor Schreiner.
Morris created a grand atmosphere for his young charges. His enthusiasm was boundless and his confidence in their success unshakable. He taught them how to get stronger through training, but he also made them stronger by working on their minds. All of those who trained with Morris believed they could get better, and did. They were constantly exposed to new ideas, to the heroes that Morris knew and to the competitions to which he always provided transportation in his endless stream of station wagons (Morris was legendary for his driving endurance and safety, having driven to Winnipeg, Canada, non-stop except for fuel, from NYC). All of this stimulus lead to results – and it was fun (Morris always believed that fun was essential). His enthusiasm was so contagious that both of Morris’s sons, Eric and Laurie, became very able weightlifters who won a number of local championships (Eric went on to become and educator and to work for the Department of Parks and Recreation - at times at Lost Battalion Hall.
It is indeed sad that in this one year, NYC has lost so many of its luminaries in Weightlifting. But it is fitting that before their deaths, both Rudy Sablo and Morris Weissbrot were inducted, along with Dietrich Wortmann, as the charter “noteworthy contributor” members to the Metropolitan LWC Hall of Fame (all three had long been members of the USAW’s Hall of Fame in that same category). The Met LWC and USA Weightlifting owe a debt of gratitude to these wonderful men who did so much for weightlifting in the NY area, and on the National scene, for so many years.
Those who knew Morris on a personal level came to appreciate his vast array of talents. But they, like so many others, will always remember his voice most of all – that deep, warm, energetic, intelligent and strong voice – the voice that always urged them to lift more. That voice will finally have a well earned rest – but its echoes, well its echoes will always be heard - as long as there are voices to urge weightlifters on in their relentless struggle for strength of mind and body.