East High’s oldest athlete, Morris Shapiro’s (1913 – 2016) love of wrestling never waned

East High’s oldest athlete, Morris Shapiro’s (1913 – 2016) love of wrestling never waned

Lemuel Rogers and Morris Shapiro, Section V Wrestling Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, February 10th, 2016. [Photo provided by Tim Herman]

Last month, Dr. Morris Shapiro passed away at age 102, two weeks after his induction into the Section V Wrestling Hall of Fame. Competing at East High School in 1929 and 1930, Dr. Shapiro was the City Interscholastic 105-pound champion.


Dr. Shapiro speaking with UR medical students, 2013. Photo courtesy of the University of Rochester

For decades and decades, Dr. Shapiro — a WWII veteran who led the surgical team of the 16th Evacuation Hospital in Northern Africa — was known for his deep involvement in the Jewish community, his generosity and his astoundingly vigorous longevity.

According to the University of Rochester, Dr. Shapiro was the oldest active faculty member at the UR Medical Center. As recently as last month he was still participating in the education of residents and medical students, attending lectures and presenting grand rounds.

We avid readers of the Democrat and Chronicle Letters to the Editor remember his prolific output, offering wide ranging opinions to at least January 2015.

Trophies new

Some of East’s oldest trophies on display at the school

Less well known was that when Dr. Shapiro died, he was the oldest known living Section V wrestler, if not in New York, if not the nation. I will hazard to guess he was East’s oldest living athlete, if not oldest alum.

In Displaying East’s glorious past, we wrote about East’s wonderful trophy collection of historical trophies dating back to 1908.  And in that glorious past, Dr. Shapiro represented the last link to the 1920s and very possibly the 1930s. (See below for more on East’s rich athletic tradition.)

Perhaps most remarkable about Dr. Morris’ wrestling career was its last act. In what may have been his last public appearance — vigorous as usual — Dr. Shapiro was fêted at the 2016 Section V Wrestling Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.

In preparation for the induction ceremony, in October 2015, Dr. Shapiro shared his wrestling scrapbook with former Madison coach and official, Frank Marotta and Tim Herman, armdrag.com creator.

At the ceremony was my friend Lemuel A. Rogers III, RCSD Social Studies Teacher,Varsity Football Coach Franklin High School and Varsity Wrestling Coach East High School (and who has still promised to find me those old baseball cards from the 1970s in his foot locker).  Lemuel describes the evening spanning over almost 90 years of East wrestling history:

morris D & C new

For all of Dr. Shapiro’s Letters to the Editor, I think he would have liked this inclusion in a story on Section V wrestling. Democrat and Chronicle, 2/28/16

As the current wrestling coach at East High, I am always curious about the history of our sport and how it came to be. When I heard that Dr. Morris Shapiro of East High was being inducted into the Section V Wrestling Hall of Fame, I had to attend. Dr. Shapiro is the oldest known surviving wrestler in Section V and probably all of New York State, and perhaps the nation.

As we stood in the reception area with some commotion an elderly gentleman was rolled in amongst the guest, his eyes were beaming and he was vigorously shaking hands.  His energy and enthusiasm quickly spread throughout the room. I was excited because he was excited. Throughout the crowd of all of these big tough former and current wrestlers Dr. Shapiro ruled the room. He was escorted to his table where many of us took turns sitting and talking with Dr. Shapiro about many things from wrestling to girls. His hand shake was firm and confident, and his smile was contagious, I said I must have a photo with this man as the coach of his alma mater. He was fascinating and engaging. 102 years old and as sharp as ever.

I left that evening feeling empowered having met such a wonderful person. I would have never guessed his passing would come so soon after, because on that night Dr. Shapiro was the life of the party. We are grateful for his service.

What a fitting tribute to a life well lived for over a century.

Morris Shapiro and team cropped

A different Morris Shapiro! But no doubt Dr. Shapiro knew some of the players on the team. [Photo provided by the JCC’s Joy Getnick]

I never met Dr. Shapiro, but had a funny close encounter. Last summer while at the Jewish Community Center, I noticed an old photo in its trophy case. The photo was from the 1928-29 Jewish basketball team that played in the Rochester YMCA league. The caption said the coach, top right, was Morris Shapiro.

Having watched the documentary The First Basket about Jewish basketball dating back to the 1920s, it dawned on me that Dr. Shapiro might be the last surviving link to that era of Jewish basketball. With the help of the JCC’s Joy Getnick, I contacted Julie who worked at The Summit in Brighton where Dr. Shapiro lived.

Knowing that Dr. Shapiro liked talking about the past, Julie arranged an interview as I prepared my questions. Then Dr. Shapiro looked more closely at the photograph. It was a different Morris Shapiro!

Our Morris never played organized basketball, perhaps too busy on the wrestling mat.  I was disappointed but not really surprised. Dr Shapiro would have been 16 at the time and Coach Shapiro looks older than that.Roc4Israel

Several month later, I suggested to Patti Munther, co-founder of Roc4Israel (Dr. Shapiro was passionate about Israel) that she consider interviewing Dr. Shapiro.  Always interested in local Jewish history, Patti (a Talker subscriber!) also arranged an interview.

But as with my visit to the Summit, Patti’s also never took place. As she explains:

You asked me to write the piece about Dr. Shapiro about two months ago and gave me another nudge about it about three weeks ago. I called him at the Summit and he called me back immediately. He knew my family and recognized my last name. We set up a time to meet last Tuesday. His nurse called me the same day to say he hadn’t been feeling well for the past two days and he wouldn’t be able to meet me. I had planned to call her the next day to re-schedule.
Dr. Shapiro was looking forward to talking about the Jewish community with me. I joked with him that you had let me know he was a bit right of center [judging from his Letters to the Editor] and so was I.

So Patti and I never did meet Dr. Shapiro. But from what we’ve read and heard about the man who was East’s oldest athlete, I think we both met him in spirit.

In Memoriam: Morris Shapiro 1913 – 2016


“Team Eagle” set to open a new field of dreams at East. Roland Williams ’93 drops by for final summer tune up.

Displaying East’s glorious past

East’s Coach Brigandi proved the value of sports extends beyond the playing fields

East baseball triumphs again; SOTA’s Kenny Cruz named RCAC player of the year

East baseball takes the show on the road. Destination Pittsburgh

Jamming and Slamming at East

Remembering the Jewish past of Joseph Avenue

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


Like what you see on our site? We’d appreciate your support. Please donate today.

Featured Posts