The Lynn Journal sat down with legendary Lynn basketball coach Herb Brenner to talk about the 1961-62 Lynn Lions’ season.
The 93-year-old Brenner, a patient at the Aviv Center for Living in Swampscott where is rehabilitating from shoulder surgery, was happy to reminisce about the Lions’ first (and last) season.
“It felt great to be named the head coach of the team,” said Brenner. “I remember there was more talent in the East Lynn section of the city than there was where I was coaching at Classical. I was just happy to have this opportunity which was historical, having three high schools form one Lynn basketball team.”
Brenner, who became the head of the business department at Lynn Classical, was asked about the transition to one team representing rival high schools.
“There was some difficulty because I think some of the English High School players were upset with the situation,” said Brenner. “They might have felt that I was giving the Classical players more attention. But I wasn’t. I was going for the best players.”
Brenner said the team’s 18-2 record speaks for itself. “Eighteen and two,” he said emphatically.
He remembers an opposing coach being a little too animated about his team’s early-season victory over Lynn.
“After our first loss, I went on the bus and made my first speech to the players and I said that, ‘we will not see that coach get off his bench and show off again. I guaranteed that and let’s just say the coach wasn’t as excited during our next meeting because we won the game.”
With only one basketball team in Lynn, Brenner said the tryouts drew many players. “I believe I gave everyone a fair chance to make this squad.”
Brenner knew he had some standout players such as English’s Charlie Campbell and Classical’s Dick Sakowich, “but Sakowich was hurt and on the sidelines in the beginning of the season.”
But after a couple of early-season losses, the Lions soon jelled under the guidance of Brennan.
Sakowich’s return to the starting lineup at mid-season boosted the Lions’ offense. “Dick actually became one of the team’s top scorers, which is phenomenal considering he missed several games,” said Sakowich. “He was a tremendous shooter. We wouldn’t have won 18 games if he didn’t come in and play.”
Brenner said the Lions played their home games at the old Classical gymnasium. “One of our away games was actually played inside a swimming pool. But I enjoyed the whole season so much. I can’t tell you what a great life I’ve had with my involvement in basketball.”
Brenner believes he treated the English players in the same manner that he did his Classical players. It didn’t affected playing time on the court.
“Bobby Medros was an English kid and was a strong defensive player and I put him on the other team’s best scorer just about every game and he produced,” said Brenner.
Brenner admitted that relations with assistant coach Al Tangney of Lynn English weren’t always cordial, but the two men adjusted to being associates as opposed to being coaches of rival schools.
The Lynn community rallied behind its one high school basketball team.
“We got some great crowds at our games,” said Brenner. “The players really performed well. I had fun.”
Though he spent his coaching career at Classical, Brenner is actually a graduate of Lynn English, Class of 1935. He is an inductee in four Halls of Fame, English, Classical, Salem State University, and the Massachusetts State Coaches Assocation. He retired from coaching in 1977 after being named head of the Classical Business Department.
“I looked at the names of the people who attended my retirement party from coaching and people like [Speaker of the House] Tommy McGee and the mayor [Antonio Marino] were there and I’m so proud,” said Brenner. “I said to my kids [Steve and Gary] that I was so honored that so many people came to my party and made presentations to me. That made me feel good that they thought so well of me.”
Steve Brenner, who is now 62 years old, remembers his father coaching the Lynn Lions, having served as a ballboy for the team.
“I remember all the games – unfortunately I remember the Tech Tourney loss like it was yesterday,” said Brenner. “The tournament game was at the Garden and I got to shoot around before the game. I remember the Somerville loss and my father being bitter at home. I know coaches don’t forget the losses until the next game so it was one of those kinds of things. But we have such fond memories of that season.”
Brenner, who became an All-Scholastic basketball player at English in 1967 and played four games against his father’s Classical team, said people still bring up his father’s coaching career and identify him with that golden era of Lynn basketball.
“People are always saying to me, “Aren’t you Herbie’s kid?’ “and I’m in my sixties and they still say that.”