Marvin Pearl, who died April 22 at age 82 after a two-year battle with mesothelioma, only stood 5’5” but he was proof that you didn’t need to be big to be a giant; you just needed a big heart.
A well respected basketball director and physical education teacher at Toronto’s Jarvis Collegiate for 34 years, Pearl has been credited with the success of high school basketball in Toronto, ultimately making the city a breeding ground of basketball talent. Not only did he coach his own team at Jarvis Collegiate, but he also ran his own tournament as well as overseeing the high-profile Metro Toronto Boys All-Star game where many of Toronto’s most promising basketball players faced off against the best high schoolers from the United States.
Pearl also had the foresight to co-found the city’s first basketball clinic in 1965, when interest in basketball was low if not non-existent, especially compared to hockey.
“I was sorry to hear about Marv’s passing,” said Glen Grunwald, president and CEO of Canada Basketball, and a former general manager of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks. “He was a visionary and his passion helped lead to the tremendous growth of our game. Canada is now a basketball nation, and all of us involved in Canadian basketball owe a debt of gratitude to Marvin Pearl.”
“My dad fought as hard as he could and really battled this terrible cancer, but ultimately, and with my beloved mother Mary, a Holocaust survivor, having passed away in December, it was too much for him to bear, and he finally succumbed,” said Michelle Scholes, one of Pearl’s three children, along with sons Alden and Leonard. “I think that when my mom died, his spark, his light, was extinguished.”
“Growing up, my siblings and I ran into many former students of my dad, all of whom would share amazing stories about him, and who would get emotional when telling us how much my father helped them not only in school or in basketball, but in life,” said Alden. “To my wonderful father, there was nothing more gratifying and rewarding than helping others succeed.”
Inducted into the Ontario Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004, Pearl was also the Canadian National Exhibition’s (CNE) sports director and consultant where he ran the Lions CNE Baseball tournament; a city tradition that continues today, 65 years after its inception.
Upon learning of Pearl’s death, the CNE flew the Canadian flag at half-mast.
“Despite his size, Marvin Pearl had one of the biggest spirits at the CNE,” said Zis Parras, director of programs at the CNE. “He worked in the sports department for over 50 years and I had the pleasure to work with him for 20 of those years. Marvin won’t just be remembered for overseeing our Peewee baseball and basketball tournaments; he will be remembered for ensuring that every participant, player, coach and volunteer felt important and cared for. Marvin’s colleagues will remember his humour, caring and commitment, and he will always be part of the CNE.”
Proud of his Jewish heritage, Pearl, a member of Toronto’s Beth David Synagogue, volunteered with Maccabi Canada and took great pride in Israeli athletic accomplishments.
“My dad lived his life adhering to the best of Jewish values; values he passed down to me and my siblings, and values that we have all passed onto our children,” said Leonard. “He was one in a million, and leaves a wonderful legacy; a legacy of compassion, generosity, commitment and of doing for others; and really, I couldn’t be more proud of him for having made the world a better place.”