New coach Wrenn talking the talk at Poly

On High Schools

April 23, 2006|By MILTON KENT

The alphabet may say that the letter C comes before the letter P, but for anyone connected with Poly, you'd better know which school comes first whenever there's a conversation about the big rivalry between Poly and City.

Learning that Poly comes before City is just one of the things Roger Wrenn will have to master between now and when he takes over the Poly football program this fall.

"I need to be careful because after coaching there [City] for three years, I say it the other way, too," Wrenn joked the other day.

Remembering to say Poly before City likely will be the easiest part of Wrenn's new job, as he leaves Patterson after 32 years to take over the Engineers.

Wrenn, the area's winningest active coach, accepted the Poly position last month and has spent a good part of the past three weeks dealing with the emotional separation from Patterson, where he coached two generations of Clippers.

Truth be told, if there hadn't been persistent talk about closing Patterson, Wrenn said he might be returning there next year to coach, rather than going to Poly.

Wrenn said his plan was to teach and coach one more year at Patterson and then retire, perhaps to take up one of the long-standing offers he has had to be an assistant at a local college.

The problem was that, at 59, Wrenn wasn't quite ready to completely throttle down.

"I thought I don't know if that's enough to really fill up my day and keep me," Wrenn said. "It's hard to go from working 10-12 hours a day to total retirement. My love and my passion is coaching football."

At some point, Wrenn said, he started listening to the entreaties of people associated with Poly to come and get the once-proud Engineers program, once headed by longtime friend and rival Augie Waibel, going again.

"So I approached it, and the more I dug into it, the more vociferous I got, and I was kind of wanting to take that job," Wrenn said. "I'm about as excited about it as anything since I was a very young man. I'm really excited about the challenge and the opportunity and bringing a school that is at the zenith of Baltimore education academically. I just want to bring the football program back around the way it once was."

Wrenn, who guided Patterson to a share of the city's Division I title this past season and a berth in the state's Class 4A playoffs, replaces Anthony Knox, who went 5-5 in his third and final year at Poly before he resigned after the season.

Even more galling to the demanding Poly alumni base is that City was one of the teams to share that city title with Patterson and it advanced to the state semifinals. City coach George Petrides, who coached with Wrenn in their early days, appears to have the Knights back on track and threatening to pull away from Poly.

"I see a real resurgence in City's program," Wrenn said. "They've got a new principal and they were good this year and they'll be even better next year.

"I hope that I'm the right person to make Poly preeminent in Baltimore City football, also. If the city championship were to come down to the last game of the season and that were the City-Poly game, it would just be a pinnacle of the season and nothing would make me happier."

Speaking of the Poly-City rivalry, Wrenn remains noncommittal on the persistent efforts from a vocal cadre of alums from both schools to secede from the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association so that the annual meeting can move back to Thanksgiving, when it was played until 1993.

However, Wrenn, who calls himself a "traditionalist," does plan to wade into the history of Poly football in the hopes of adding a few more names to the list of great Engineers players and coaches.

"I will be very respectful of their tradition, and I would like to see us play some games that are not necessarily against Baltimore City opponents," Wrenn said. "But I think we've got to get the program shipshape before we get too far afield."

Sounds like he already has learned the ABCs of being a success at Poly.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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