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Perham couple gives meaning to 'making concessions'

Marie Nitke/FOCUS Brian and Connie Mort, behind the counter of the concession stand at Prairie Wind Middle School in Perham - their 'home away from home' for part of the year.

Connie Mort has been spending far fewer nights at home - and giving up more than her fair share of coffee breaks at work - since she and her husband, Brian, took charge of the concession stands for Perham's school events three years ago.

The task keeps the couple running at full speed through the fall and winter seasons. Yellowjacket fans will recognize the Mort's smiling faces from football, basketball, volleyball and gymnastics events, among others, where they sell things like beverages, pretzels, hot dogs, and sometimes even pulled pork, chicken or BBQ ribs to hungry spectators.

Not only that, but Brian and Connie order and stock all the inventory, come up with the menus, train in student helpers, plan and follow a budget, and deal with the day-to-day hassles of running a food service, including meeting with health inspectors and finding someone to fix a broken popcorn machine in a hurry.

All in all, the couple spends 50 to 60 nights a year at the concession stands - and that's after they're done with their day jobs. On an average night, they're at an event for anywhere from five to eight hours. Plus, Connie runs over to the stand on her afternoon coffee break to start warming up the machines.

Connie explained that, with Brian already at most of the games as an announcer, and their two daughters nearly grown, she figured she might as well stop spending evenings at home alone, and join her husband at the games. When budget cuts created an opening behind the concession counters, she and Brian knew they were in a position to take the job on.

That 'job' being entirely unpaid. That's right - Brian and Connie don't make a dime for their time.

All proceeds from the concessions go to students and school programs - either through the district's activities fund or individual grants.

But the long-time supporters of the schools are happy to help out.

"It's fun," said Connie, "and I'd just be at home anyway... You have to ask yourself: 'If not you, who?'"

"A community is only as strong as its school district," said Brian. "That's how we look at it."

The couple said they enjoy their evenings at the events, where they run into a lot of friends and have the chance to meet new people. However, they admit with a laugh that, "by the end of the season, we're ready to be done for awhile."

With their high level of commitment, it's no wonder the Morts have just been selected to receive the 2012 Distinguished Service Award, presented by the Minnesota Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MnIAAA).

The couple will be honored in a ceremony at the State Athletic Director's annual conference in St. Cloud March 29.

MnIAAA committee members chose the Morts as winners from a pool of nominees; the Distinguished Service Award is awarded annually to up to three individuals.

Brian and Connie were nominated by Perham's Activities Director Fred Sailer and others, including the district's former superintendent, Tamara Uselman.

Sailer said he nominated the Morts because of their longstanding commitment to the schools - not just their recent venture in concessions, but all the ways they've been involved through the years.

Among many other things, Connie is a past school board member, and Brian is a former 549 Family Foundation President.

"We sent in such a long list of things they've done for the school, that when the state committee looked at it, they must have said, 'This is it,'" said Sailer. "We have so many people in our community here that make things go, but Brian and Connie have just gone over and above. It's incredible. It's a very selfless endeavor on their part... I never thought in my wildest imagination that somebody would give that much time to our programs."

Since taking over the concessions, Sailer said the Morts have brought consistency to the program, and have gotten things well organized - wasting less food and saving the district money. He believes their creative menu options are also generating more sales.

"We've seen increased profits," he said. "They're both so highly organized. They have their own vendors; they've gotten some equipment in there. They just dove right in."

But the Morts are adamant that they aren't doing it alone. They say the community is incredibly supportive.

Grocers and food suppliers like Dean's, Service Foods, Main Street Pizza, Gobble Up Turkey and others provide items at discounted prices. This boosts the stands' bottom line and ultimately benefits the students.

Then there are the fans who frequent the concession stands. Connie said some of them are there for every event, just like she and Brian are.

"They'll come up and ask me, 'So, what's for dinner tonight?,'" Connie said with a laugh.

Not to mention the students who regularly help out behind the counter. In return for their volunteer efforts, a portion of the kids' 'earnings' (they don't actually make anything) are donated to the school activities of their choice.

"Lots of people devote their time to this," said Brian.

Grant money is currently available from concession proceeds. For more information, contact Brian or Connie, or call Fred Sailer at 346-6502.