Manitoba high school athletics: Sporting dynasties by the numbers

By | April 15, 2019

Each year close to 40,000 Manitoba students compete in high school sports.

Of these, a select few move on after graduation to compete at higher levels, but for the majority of us this fleeting, four-year period in our lives represents the pinnacle of our athletic endeavours.

While our waistlines, flexibility and hand-eye co-ordination may never be the same, for those who participated, the memories of cross-town rivalries formed in the heat of competition are etched in our minds.

So who are the winningest schools in Manitoba’s varsity sports?

Using historic Manitoba High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) championship records, CBC News has created the definitive breakdown of athletic dynasties over the past several decades.

Volleyball: Lord Selkirk a lean, mean consistency machine

When it comes to volleyball in this province, no other high school program has consistently and repeatedly produced as many championship teams as the Selkirk-based Lord Selkirk Royals.

With a student population of just over 1,000, the school has won 20 provincial championships since the mid-1960s — eight for the boys and 12 for the girls.

Jim Schreyer coached volleyball at the Lord Selkirk Regional Comprehensive Secondary School for nearly 30 years. (Submitted by Jim Schreyer)

Jim Schreyer, the legendary high-school coach who guided the Royals boys team for nearly three decades, says the school’s volleyball culture began with girls coaches Barry Miller and Mike Burchuk.

“So Mike and Barry, I think, are the two that started up the dynasty, as you would call it. They were tough coaches and they really pushed their athletes and put in a lot of hours,” Schreyer said.

Together they guided the Royals to to five consecutive provincial championships from 1975 to 1979. The team was inducted into the MHSAA Hall of Fame in 2013.

The Lord Selkirk Royals girls volleyball team won the 1986 provincial varsity AAAA championship against the Daniel McIntyre Maroons. (CBC Archives)

Schreyer says passionate and committed coaches and alumni are the key to developing successful teams and attracting the best athletes to the sport.

“The first day of school, always, I’d be out there watching the new Grade 10s coming in to see if anybody was standing on the ground unscrewing light bulbs — on the ceiling! I’d go over and introduce myself and ask them if they played the game,” he joked.

On the boys side, in addition to Lord Selkirk, two other teams have been dominant: the Miles Macdonell Collegiate Buckeyes and the Dakota Collegiate Lancers.

Retired MHSAA executive director Morris Glimcher, who oversaw high school sports for 40 years, says when it comes to volleyball, one team really punched above their weight: the Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute boys team that has won provincials on six occasions.

With a population of about 400 students in any given year, the Hawks are somewhat of an anomaly in high school sports in that they routinely defeat schools enjoying three times the athlete pool.

“Their philosophy was ‘We’re AAAA and we’re playing at that [level],” Glimcher said, calling them the “little school that could.”

Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute varsity boys mount a block against the Selkirk Royals in the AAAA volleyball provincial championship final in 2012. They went on to win tournament. (Submitted by MHSAA)

Basketball: No clear powerhouse

Unlike volleyball, there is no clear pattern of domination on the basketball court for Manitoba high school teams.

The boys and girls Dakota Lancers have collectively racked up the most titles since the mid-’60s, but the bulk of their victories occurred before the ’90s. In recent years, schools including Oak Park, Garden City Collegiate and Glenlawn Collegiate have often been crowned champs.

A Dakota Lancers player drives to the hoop in an undated picture. (Submitted by MHSAA)

However, there are occasional outliers — teams not normally on the radar that steal the limelight. Case in point: the 1992 and 1993 Shaftesbury Titans.

During that time, future NBA bigman Todd MacCulloch was roaming the school hallway, towering over his classmates at nearly seven feet tall.

Missy Penner, a well-known figure in high school sports who over the years has been an elite athlete and coach, and is now an administrator at Garden City Collegiate, says students like MacCulloch can propel a team to greatness.

Future NBA basketball player Todd MacCulloch towers over his classmates at nearly seven feet tall in the hallways of Shaftesbury High School in the early ’90s. (CBC)

“You are very thankful and grateful when someone like a Todd MacCulloch walks through your doors,” she said.

Since that time, Shaftesbury has not won another boys title.

Football and hockey: St. Paul’s dominates

When it comes to football and hockey there is no doubt the St. Paul’s Crusaders are the class of the field. In the past 20 years, the Catholic school for boys has won 10 football titles and eight hockey titles.

Stacy Dainard, head coach of the Crusaders football team and a former player on the team who went on to play for the University of Manitoba Bisons football team, has overseen the program since 2002.

“Our football team is going into its 88th year of existence so history certainly helps build culture [within the school],” he said.

“There’s a desire among students and parents, and an ethos that the school promotes of getting involved in something. If that something is sport, great. If that something is drama or debate, great as well. But ‘get involved in an activity in the school,’ I’d say, is the overarching culture within the school and most of the students buy into that.”

St. Paul’s High School Crusaders in action at the old Canad Inn stadium. (CBC)

It’s worth noting that the pool of high schools in the province that can field complete squads in football and hockey is relatively small compared with other, less resource intensive sports.

The football league does not fall under the purview of the MHSAA, but does follows its general guidelines under the Winnipeg High School Football League banner.

Records for high school football championships go as far back as 1932, with a two-year gap in the early 1950s when the league was put on hold during the province’s worst polio epidemic.

Cross-country and badminton

Records for cross-country running show that Kelvin and Vincent Massey Winnipeg are consistently at the top of their game, winning the most provincial championships for both girls and boys.

Byron Goodwin of Grant Park High School runs in 1992 during track practice. Goodwin went on to compete at the Olympics and Pan Am games in middle-distance events. (CBC)

MHSAA’s records for track-and-field titles are not available in a reliable format, and were excluded from this analysis.

However, high schools such as Grant Park have historically been successful in running events, spawning elite athletes like middle-distance runner Byron Goodwin, the high school athlete of the year in 1990 who went on to compete at the Olympic Games in Barcelona.

High school girls compete in a cross-country race in 2009. The Sisler Spartans went on to win the AAAA varsity girls race. (Submitted by MHSAA)

Overall, provincial badminton championships are won by schools that accumulate the most points in the provincial tournament, counting both boys and girls scores. It’s one of the few events where teams compete on a co-ed basis. MHSAA records only went as far back as 2010.

Changing face of high-school sports

Penner, who played for the University of Manitoba Bison volleyball team as a setter from 1982 to 1986, says one of the biggest changes she’s seen over the years has been a greater focus on specialization.

“I think today, you do see a little more specialization. I think it depends on the school. [At Garden City Collegiate] I do think we see kids playing a little bit more sports, going from one sport to the other, but I do think you’re seeing a lot of specialization and I think a lot of that is because of club [teams],” she said.

Missy Penner, long-time athlete and coach and now vice-principal of Garden City Collegiate, says students benefit socially when they participate in sports. ‘Whether they are your teammates or your opponents, they become lifelong friends.’ (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Morris Glimcher agrees, saying today’s high school athletes are bigger, stronger and have better skills.

He says another trend that emerged during the second half of his tenure as the head of the MHSAA was athletes and their parents “shopping around” for the best school programs.

“What was happening — and what was really sad — is an athlete might have been in Grade 11 and, for Grade 12, they would transfer to another school because they say, ‘We could win, and if I go we could do that’,” he recalled.

“I would get the call from the parent whose kid worked really really hard and then all of a sudden someone from another school comes in, and now they’re not starting anymore because the other kid is better.” 

Glimcher says he informally tracked the makeup of semi-finalist teams, and in some cases there were up to 10 athletes who were transfers.

Morris Glimcher, retired MHSAA executive director, oversaw high-school sports in Manitoba for nearly 40 years. (Submitted by Morris Glimcher)

In 2015, the MHSAA adopted a policy to prevent students from switching schools to chase championships.

Penner says she hopes schools continue to develop and invest in their sports programs long into the future.

“When kids get involved in sports, I think, it’s one of the best things you can ever get involved in. You put in all this time with your teammates and your coaches and just the people that you meet.

“Whether they are your teammates or your opponents, they become lifelong friends.”

Note about the records:

  • Records for all sports with the exception of football are from the Manitoba High School Athletic Association.
  • Records for football are from the Winnipeg High School Football League.
  • Some errors in the records were found and fixed along the way of the analysis. Some errors may still exist.
  • For the purpose of this analysis, only records for the highest classification (e.g. AAAA) were used and only for varsity-level teams.
  • Not all sports were included. Sports such as demonstration sports (rugby, ultimate, lacrosse) or curling, golf, baseball/fast-pitch were excluded.