One by one, 20 former players, coaches and colleagues took their turn speaking passionately about their high school coach Roger Wrenn in April.
The legendary football and baseball coach, who spent most of his years at Patterson High School in Baltimore, was honored that night, accepting the John Harvill Lifetime Achievement Award from the Maryland Football Coaches Association.
The win totals, championships and awards Mr. Wrenn compiled in his 38 years as a football coach and 29 as a baseball coach before he retired in 2011 were staggering. But the primary message from those who spoke that night was about the profound impact he made on so many lives.
Thomas Roger Wrenn died Monday at his home in Ellicott City of cancer. He was 75.
As the football coach at Patterson (1974-2005) and then Poly (2006-2011), Mr. Wrenn compiled a 284-113-2 record that included eight Baltimore City and three Maryland Scholastic Association titles. Coaching 29 years of baseball at Patterson, he finished with a 431-169-2 record with six Baltimore City and five MSA crowns.
When Mr. Wrenn’s extensive achievements were being celebrated in April, Joe Mechlinski, a 1995 Patterson graduate who played football under the longtime coach, summed up most people’s thoughts about Mr. Wrenn with his words that evening.
“For many of us, he was the extension of family. He was a father figure, he was a brother, he was a mentor, he was a coach and we’re all so lucky to have him in our lives,” he said. “And one of the things I loved that Coach Wrenn did the best for me was show us tough love — that’s what family is really all about, which is not easy to do.”
Born around Greenbelt to Thomas Randall Wrenn, a bovine scientist for the U.S. government, and Almeda Wrenn, a homemaker, Mr. Wrenn was a 1965 graduate of High Point High in Prince George’s County. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in physical education from what was then Frostburg State College, where he was captain of the football team in his junior and senior years.
Mr. Wrenn was an assistant football coach at Fort Hill, Howard and City before starting his 32-year run as head coach at Patterson in 1974. Over the decades, he was named coach of the year in both sports by a number of organizations and is a Hall of Fame member with MFCA, Maryland State Association of Baseball and Old Timer Baseball Association.
“He was an outstanding coach, but more importantly, he was a great individual. He did wonders for the youth. He was a taskmaster, but he was always fair,” said former Dunbar boys basketball and football coach Bob Wade, who served as Baltimore City’s director of athletics during much of Mr. Wrenn’s coaching tenure.
Mr. Wrenn’s organizational skills, no-nonsense approach and dedication to his student-athletes and coaching staff stood out the most with all of those who greatly appreciated his mentoring. A number of his players and assistants followed in his footsteps in becoming coaches.
Fallston football coach Keith Robinson, a New York native, came to Baltimore in 1996 and served as an assistant coach under Mr. Wrenn in football and baseball for six years. With previous head coaching jobs at Overlea and Perry Hall, Mr. Robinson immediately understood and appreciated just how much Mr. Wrenn did in preparing him to become a successful coach.
“When I met him in 1996, it was immediately evident that he was an old-school guy,” Mr. Robinson said. “He was discipline-oriented and worked in a community that those kids really needed that structure and discipline. He held his kids accountable and his young assistant coaches. He really expected us to toe the line the same way he did, and he’d hold your feet to the fire if you didn’t do it.”
Russell Wrenn, one of Mr. Wrenn’s two sons, became a football coach and spent years in Georgia before returning to Baltimore in 2016 as an assistant coach at Gilman. He lured his father out of retirement as the elder Wrenn served as the offensive line coach for two years. It proved to be cherished time for father and son.
“Being able to be together every day of the week and coaching together for those two years were really special,” said Russell Wrenn, who is athletic director at Gilman and lives in Baltimore.
“I’ll always remember Sundays being the film breakdown and game plan for the week ahead. Something that all his coaches talk about is his thorough and meticulous nature with that, and it’s something I certainly inherited. It’s just a process you kind of can’t rush and how awesome for me. It was mostly the two of us most of the day watching our past game and the coming game — breaking down film and bouncing ideas off each other. For a father and son, you can’t ask for a whole lot more quality time than that.”
A memorial service will take place at a later date at Patterson.
In addition to his son Russell, he is survived by his wife of 16 years, Donna Bowers; one daughter, Kelly Snyder of Raleigh, North Carolina; one other son, Alexander Wrenn of Baltimore; one brother, Douglas Wrenn of Nashville, Tennessee; one sister, Wendy Steinhorn of Highland; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. An earlier marriage to the former Linda McCann ended in divorce.