When the flame is doused and the book is closed on the Canada Winter Games next Saturday, you couldn’t blame Chris Morrissey if he hopped on a plane and jetted off to one of those all-inclusive getaways for a week or two.
But no such luck for Morrissey and his staff at the 2011 Games. There’s still plenty of work to be done, though Morrissey’s schedule should, thankfully, ease up somewhat.
While the athletes are, and always will be, the face of the Canada Games, Morrissey is the man behind the scenes, the CEO whose job it is to ensure Halifax throws off a quality event.
Given his rather youthful 40 years, that’s a pretty big ship to steer.
As CEO, this St. John’s native is directly responsible for 65 staff and a $45 million budget. And that doesn’t count the 5,000-plus volunteers and 3,600 athletes, coaches, managers and mission staff who are, and will be, in the Halifax area for a two-week spell.
Consider this, a typical day in the life of Chris Morrissey since the Canada Games opened last Saturday:
Up and at ’em at 6 a.m.; in the office by 7 a.m. for a daily morning meeting with the provincial and territorial chefs de mission; another 60-minute meeting with the Games’ operations committee; further meetings, media interviews and receptions with future hosts and sponsors throughout the day (“there’s a lot more to it than just going and sipping on drinks”); reviewing venue reports submitted daily at 6 p.m.; contact various mission staffs regarding any issues that may have arisen; 9:30 p.m. followup meeting with senior staff; final checks of any logistical details or issues; home and in bed by midnight or 1 a.m.
“And that’s a good night,” he smiles.
Catching up with Morrissey is task in itself.
Four 14 straight days, it’s go, go, go, an organizational marathon for this Brother Rice High School and Memorial University graduate, but it’s rather old hat, by now.
Morrissey, after all, is a bit of a Games veteran.
He was general manager (”different title, same job”) of the 2007 Winter Games in Whitehorse, Yukon. In 2003, at the Bathurst-Campbellton, N.B. Games, Morrissey was in the private sector, working on a few contracts but was still involved in the Games as an operations consultant. In 2001, at the London, Ont. Summer Games, he was operations manager after getting his Canada Games start at home in 1999, as the facilities coordinator for the Corner Brook Winter Games.
But Morrissey’s experience isn’t limited to national events.
In the summer of 1999, Morrissey landed in Winnipeg, where he was a “fit-out” superintendent with the Pan American Games, responsible for 15 sport venues, ensuring any temporary structures were built and ready for field of play.
He held the same position in Manchester, England for the 2002 Commonwealth Games and while he wasn’t the lead hand for the 2003 Pan Am Games, Morrissey was in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic helping prepare those facilities.
He was working in the entertainment and promotions business in St. John’s when a disagreement between Morrissey and his business partners led to his decision to head to Corner Brook for the ’99 Games.
Since then, his life has been all sports.
But this guy’s certainly no dumb jock.
Before taking on the Halifax job, Morrissey was in discussions with VANOC to work on the 2010 Winter Olympics. But the opportunity to work closer to home, in an area where he wouldn’t mind laying roots, was too good to pass up.
After shutting down the Whitehorse Games, Morrissey was faced with the task of building Halifax.
But where to begin?
Staff had be put in place. Money had to be raised. Decisions on venues — what was needed (in the case of Halifax, a new $47 million Canada Games Centre and a $2 million speed skating oval) and what could be transformed into sporting venues (like Sackville High School, site of the shooting competition).
And that’s just the start.
“We had to build a brand new team, in a new city, to put off 20 national championships,” said Morrissey. “You have to be on top of everything at every moment.
“It’s like the start of a business. You get it up and running, build it and hopefully you’re successful. Difference is then you have to shut it down, stop dead in your tracks. So in that regard it’s unlike any other normal business.”
In the three and a half years since landing in Halifax, Morrissey figures there’s been thousands of hours of staff time, tens of thousands of hours of volunteer time and, “an endless amount of blood, sweat and tears” invested in the Halifax Games.
The Halifax Regional Municipality is the largest (population, 382,000) city/region to play host to the Winter Games since the first event way back 44 years ago in Quebec City.
But even Halifax, a city with a history of hosting big events like the Brier, World Junior Hockey Championship, World Hockey Championship and curling’s Olympic Trials, didn’t come without its challenges.
“Trying to raise $8 million in Whitehorse? We knew we weren’t going to do it all there, so that was a challenge.
“A market like Halifax offered a different challenge. This is a pretty big event, but in a big market. So trying to promote the Games here was a significant challenge.”
The ol’ big fish in a big pond type of thing.
“I think in the end we received a lot of positive support towards the Games,” he said.
Not that everything has gone swimmingly. There are always going to be a few hiccups along the way, and earlier this week, Morrissey and the Games’ staff had to deal with the unfortunate incident of Manitoba wheelchair basketball player Kyle Bunskoek, who was hospitalized with a serious illness. Bunskoek is improving, but his unknown condition was deemed critical.
“Getting that news wasn’t easy,” Morrissey said.
“And there was the daily criticism. When you are dealing with humans, there is human nature, whether it’s volunteers or staff, coaches or managers. Every person is different and sometimes criticisms are given towards organizers without much foundation. What could be difficult is those criticisms can de-motivate staff and volunteers.
“You spend thousands of hours working on a project like this and sometimes it’s a thankless job.
“But it is rewarding when you see the smiles on the athletes and the volunteers.”
Morrissey has another week of the Games to punch in, and after that, he and Games staff will wrap up the event. The big thing will be preparing and submitting financials to all levels of government for auditing.
He officially finishes up in August and hopes to stay in the area, where there are opportunities for his skills in special events or perhaps the private sector.
And after next week, his family — wife, Kayla, and children Nate, four, and two-year-old Dane — will get used to having Dad around the house once again.
But he won’t have a lot of time to rest.
A third child is due in early May.
NOTE: This version as been corrected. There had been an error in number of years since first Canada Winter Games.