The second standing ovation for 84-year-old Arnold Gluck had hardly subsided when a third erupted through the Centralia High School gymnasium. Gluck waved both hands in the air, leaned over and shouted over the roar, “I think they like me.”
Uh, yeah, you could say that, Arnold.
Gluck has reached celebrity status in the Illinois city of 14,000 – and now his fame is stretching beyond the walls of the Uptown Cafe on Poplar Street. The Centralia Orphans won the USA TODAY High School Sports’ Best Mascot competition last month – a contest that lasted three rounds and a full month, and drew 80 million total votes.
Gluck’s connection? He is the mascot.
“This is more than I ever could have imagined,” Gluck said this week during the Centralia celebration.
During the 1946-47 season, Gluck was Centralia’s point guard. One day at practice, a group of artists arrived and asked coach A.L. Trout for one of his players to serve as a model to the Orphan mascot. Trout told the artists he could do even better – give them a true orphan.
Gluck’s story is made for the big screen. He grew up in orphanages and as a runaway across the country, before finally locating his grandfather – and eventually his mother – in Centralia. He’s lived the rest of his life in the area.
And now he’s more famous than ever, as the mascot contest sparked media interest in him from regional and national outlets. The Orphans, who won $2,000, blew away the competition with more than 31 million votes over the three rounds, including 25 million in the weeklong final round. The celebration featured all the deserving bells and whistles – another sign of unity for a town going through rough economic times. Mayor Tom Ashby and principal Reid Shipley raved about the community spirit, and the crowd at the event spanned eight decades.
But the real show was Gluck.
“This is really something,” Gluck said, smiling and shaking his head as he stared out toward the crowd, “but I’m getting tired having to keep standing back up.”