“I’m Coach Mac’s brother.”
When I introduced myself to Jason Brennan at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland Jan. 19, he carried his Uncle Mark’s crosier and a confused expression.
Back in December, I had spent a leisurely morning at the Frederick home of his parents, Paul and Patricia, gathering background for a feature on Bishop Mark Brennan’s roots
. Paul is Bishop Brennan’s only sibling. We had already established a pretty good rapport when he mentioned that their three children, Jason, Lyn and John, had all played athletics at Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick.
I noted that when my brother, Kevin, a career educator, took his calling in the 1990s from Anne Arundel County to Frederick County, his first coaching job there was the boys’ soccer team at TJ.
“I know your brother,” Paul Brennan said. “He coached Jason.”
A photo of the Brennan Brothers shows the future bishop on the right.
Much of the remainder of the interview kept returning to our shared interests and acquaintances. Paul spent about 30 seconds discussing his own professional career with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (his last 25 years there spent managing a wastewater treatment plant in Damascus), and was more eager to talk sports. The Brennan brothers attended St. Anthony High School in Washington, D.C., where Paul played football and baseball.
The Brennan Brothers played baseball growing up.
“John Thompson was in his first year (1966-67) there when I was a senior,” Paul said, of the coach who would go on to become the first black man to lead an NCAA basketball champion, at Georgetown University in 1984.
The Brennan brothers are separated by 27 months. My brother, Kevin, is 22 months older than me. (We weren’t the closest bond of brothers in our house, incidentally, as Don and Tim are separated by 11 months, “Irish twins” born in January and December 1947). Paul Brennan described an idyllic youth with his big brother stretching out from the Glassmanor Apartments in Oxon Hill, along the border of our nation’s capital and Prince George’s County, of games of whiffle ball and two-hand touch. All of those happened at my home, which included one of the first regulation basketball hoops in Brooklyn Park. The photo below is from 1971, when I was called up to the Brooklyn Park High varsity for the District V tournament because I looked good in lay-up lines.
While the Bees came within just 47 points of winning the district final and playing at the state Class B semis in Cole Field House, Kevin and I rarely lost a game of 2-on-2 against the other family combos based at St. Rose of Lima Parish.
When I asked Paul Brennan his thoughts on his brother becoming a bishop, he got emotional and struggled to find words to describe their bond. I understand his sentiments. A young Father Mark Brennan baptized his nephews and niece, and now officiates at the weddings and the baptisms of their children. My brother, Kevin, was the Best Man at my wedding, 33 years ago. I am godfather to his oldest, Esther.
When I related my meeting with Paul Brennan to my brother, Kevin remembered Jason Brennan as a hard-nosed player and natural leader.
Like father, like son, like brothers.
February 02, 2017 10:31
By Paul McMullen
All things for a reason.
That was the prevailing sentiment among several hundred at Loyola Blakefield April 16, when the school held a fundraiser for a merit scholarship fund that honors Jerry Savage, its former basketball coach and athletic director. Marquette University coach Steve Wojciechowski, a Baltimore Catholic League Hall of Famer who led Cardinal Gibbons to the 1994 title and is one of the fellow Jesuit institution’s most prominent faces, was initially advertised as the headliner for the benefit, but then the NCAA objected and the Dons went to their bench. “Wojo” is a great success story, but because he was not allowed to make it, Loyola Blakefield alums, as well as the friends and family of Savage, had the chance to hear some poignant and powerful stories from three of their own.
It was my pleasure and honor to moderate a panel that included Snuffy Smith ’60, Pete Budko ’77 and Tony Guy ’78. Retired from coaching, Snuffy became the first commissioner of the BCL, and indirectly explained the appropriateness of the league’s Player of the Year award carrying the Savage name. Smith was a University of Baltimore freshman in the 1960-61 season, when Savage was a senior at Mount St. Mary’s and concluding a record-setting career. Savage still had game in the early 1970s, when Budko and Guy entered Loyola Blakefield and made a good high school program great. The Dons won four straight BCL tournaments from 1975-78, still the only program in the league’s 45-year history to achieve that feat.
Budko and Guy traded one tradition for another, as they chose two of the nation’s five most storied college programs, North Carolina and Kansas, respectively. Budko related his injury-wracked senior season with the Tar Heels, which ended with Dean Smith putting him on the floor for the first time in months in the NCAA final, against Indiana. Who had replaced Budko in the North Carolina starting five? “Sam Perkins,” he answered. Guy’s name association was even more impressive. Asked to describe a time when he leaned on what he had learned from Savage, Guy told a story from his freshman year at Kansas, when a Michigan State star lit up Tony and the Jayhawks. “I guarded Magic Johnson as a freshman, Michael Jordan as a senior, and everyone in between,” Guy said. “There wasn’t anything I heard at Kansas that Jerry hadn’t already said. We came to Loyola as basketball players and left as much more than that. The expectation was excellence.”
Guy found a home in Kansas, where he has worked for State Farm for 30 years. Budko runs his own business development corporation in New York.
The evening’s rewards included visiting with Savage’s peers, like Nappy Doherty and Bucky Kimmett, and some Loyola Blakefield alums I hadn’t seen in decades. The latter included the Welsh brothers, Marty and Pat. A football and lacrosse star, Pat was one of the Baltimore metropolitan area Athletes of the Year I selected for The Evening Sun in 1984.
Those guys are part of a substantial legacy, one that I hope Loyola Blakefield alums never take for granted. I related a story about Jim McKay ’39 leaving me spellbound with his ABC reporting on the terrorist attack on the Israeli quarters at the 1972 Munich Olympics. What I didn’t share was how Tim Pierce ’60 and Murray Stephens ’63 brought Jesuit standards to the swim club they founded
, one that produced the greatest Olympian ever, Michael Phelps.
“Men for Others” was not a slogan for Savage, but an ethos. In retirement, he gave countless hours to the Baltimore Catholic League he helped found in 1971. He took ill at the 2015 BCL tournament and died a few months later
. I last saw him in February 2015, at Mount St. Joseph, where the Gaels were hosting No. 1 Our Lady of Mount Carmel. I wasn’t seated five minutes when Jerry entered the gym and supplied copies of the BCL standings. It wasn’t the first time he helped me out on a story. His wife, Pat, was one of my voices in a 2009 article
about Notre Dame of Maryland’s Renaissance Institute.
Pat Savage, center, with, from left, Tony Guy, Snuffy Smith, Paul McMullen and Pete Budko. (Photo Courtesy Loyola Blakefield)
April 20, 2016 11:46
By Paul McMullen
Most guys celebrate their 50th birthday by blowing out the candles on a cake. A few opt for something more strenuous, such as a day of sport fishing or a round of golf.
Then there is Chris Cucuzzella, a physics teacher and coach at Loyola Blakefield, who marked that milestone Nov. 20 by running 50 kilometers on campus, just over 31 miles. The past president of the Baltimore Road Runners Club
, Cucuzzella ran to raise funds and awareness for Back on My Feet
, which helps empower those experiencing homelessness through physical activity, and Loyola’s Class of 1964 Endowed Scholarship Fund.
A member of its class of 1982, Cucuzzella ran cross country and wrestled for the Dons, and hasn’t shown much sign of slowing down. Less than a decade ago, at age 41, he notched his personal best for the marathon, 3 hours, 2 minutes. On Nov. 20, he cranked out more than three dozen laps on a 1.5-mile course around the Loyola Blakefield athletic fields, avoiding the dip down to Wheeler Hall, and the climb back up.
“I chose the flatter course,” he said, “but it got monotonous.”
Family, friends and some of his former runners helped pass the time, as Cucuzzella started around 8 a.m. and finished during the lunch hour, clocking in at 4 hours, 40 minutes, about 9 minutes per mile.
Ryan Stasiowski (class of 2007), Greg Jubb (’07) and Greg Lange (’08) joined him at the start. Later, two of his three brothers joined in, Neil (’86) and Paul (’89). His other brother, Mark (’84), would have been there, if he had not been preparing for the 53rd annual JFK 50-Miler, which goes off Nov. 22 in Hagerstown. Also keeping Cucuzzella company were his wife, Jeanne Pinto, McDonogh School coach Jeff Sanborn and Ben Hosford, one of his current runners.
Afterward, Cucuzzella got cleaned up and directed indoor track and field practice. He’s the Dons’ head coach and an assistant in outdoor track and cross country, where Loyola Blakefield has won six straight Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association and two straight East Coast Jesuit Invitational titles.
After that, he went to out to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory with his wife and their children, Sam and Mia, to pig out and reflect.
“The nice thing about 50,” he said, “is that I don’t feel the need to top this.”
November 22, 2014 02:23
By Paul McMullen