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In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's Sports section. Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg talked with John Brennan, a longtime fixture on the local sports scene, both as an equipment salesman and a high school athletic administrator.
John Brennan turns 77 next month and, apparently, he is retired. You never know with Brennan, who has had three distinct careers during his adult life. There could be a fourth one waiting out there somewhere.
A lifelong Toledoan, Brennan spent nearly 28 years as a city firefighter. He worked in the sporting goods business for 32 years, including co-founding Team Sports, which grew into the giant on the local scene. After selling his share in that business, he spent 16 years in administration and as assistant athletic director at St. John's Jesuit High School.
"I've been awfully lucky," Brennan said. "Imagine all the wonderful people I would never have met if I'd done something else."
Brennan's legion of friends will tell you he knows just about everybody in town and might be related to most of them.
He is a 1951 graduate of Central Catholic High School who attended college at both Bowling Green and Toledo, his educational pursuits interrupted by service in the Army.
His first job was in the accounting department at Toledo Edison, which he said was "pretty boring work. I always enjoyed people and figured I should get out among them. So I took the test for the fire department."
He was appointed as a firefighter in October, 1957, and retired in 1985.
Along the way, in 1960, he began working part time for Sam Monetta at Athletic Supply, the only sporting goods firm of note at that time in Toledo. He started in the basement, fixing broken helmets and shoulder pads, and soon made his way upstairs to the sales floor.
He and Dan Rodgers, another Athletic Supply alumnus, were naturals in sales and both would eventually open their own sporting goods businesses. Brennan partnered with Bob Eberly to open Team Sports in October, 1980. He sold his share of the business to Eberly in 1992 - retirement No. 2 - and soon took up a new career at St. John's.
Brennan and his wife, Barb, have been married for 51 years and have four sons and five grandchildren. They reside in South Toledo.
"I WAS IN the Air Force ROTC at Bowling Green and I got tired of wearing the uniform to classes three days a week. So I left the program and turned the uniform in to one of the officers. This was during the Korean War. He told me, 'Son, you're making a big mistake. You'll be in the Army in a month.' He was wrong. I got my draft notice in two weeks and then I had to wear the uniform every day for two years. I was stationed in France and Germany for a total of 19 months."
"I'D WORKED part-time at Athletic Supply for a number of years while I was a fireman and I had a dream of starting my own business. Bob Eberly, who also worked at Athletic Supply, asked one day if I needed a partner and I said, 'Boy, do I ever.' So we had a dream, but it wasn't the best timing. I think the prime rate was 10 1/2 percent on its way to 20 percent. Financially speaking, the business world was on fire and people were running out of burning buildings. Bob and I went running in. It took us a few visits to banks before we found one willing to take a chance on us."
"A FRIEND in the business told me we were going to have to do $360,000 in sales in the first year just to survive. It was Bob, me, and a part-time bookkeeper and the first year we did sales of almost $500,000 and we were jumping for joy. By December of '92, when I left, we were up to $4 million and I imagine annual sales have tripled since then. Bob's done a great job managing that business, plus just about all the locally-owned shops, with the exception of Dan Rodgers, have gone out of business."
"WE TOOK what retail business walked through the door and, more often than not, gave those people wholesale prices, too. But we lived off the area's high schools and colleges as well as all the fed baseball and softball leagues. We were competitively priced, but I think the personal, timely service we gave to the schools and teams was what made the business such a success. I'd go to games every week and we tried to support all the schools that bought from us with program ads and the like."
"THE PRINCIPAL at St. John's at the time was a guy named Rick Sullivan. He walked into Team Sports one day and asked me, 'When are you going to get tired of selling jocks and socks?' Truthfully, I had grown a bit tired of it and I was intrigued by the prospect of working in high school administration and athletics. But I didn't have a degree in education. He said that was no problem for what he had in mind for me. I got involved with at-risk students who for academic reasons, financial reasons, or social reasons were falling through the cracks and leaving school. I said I'd try it for a semester at no pay and if I didn't feel like I was making a contribution I wouldn't hang around. Well, 16 years later, I decided I'd been hanging around long enough."
"I HADN'T been at St. John's too long before Mike Savona, the assistant AD, left to become principal at Fostoria St. Wendelin. Ed Heintschel, the AD at that time as well as basketball coach, asked me if I'd like to get involved with the athletic side. Of everything I've done through the years, I don't believe I ever enjoyed a job as much as I enjoyed working with Ed. He's one of so many great people involved in high school athletics in the City League and throughout the Toledo area and I'm proud that I became friends with so many of them."