By PETE SCHLEHR, Director of Athletic Media Relations
If you're looking for T.O., you won't find him on campus.
He's either gone fishin' or golfin'.
T.O., aka Terry O'Brien, Towson's venerable head athletics trainer for more than 30 years, has retired. Today is the first day of his retirement. He called it quits as of yesterday.
Don't beat yourself up because you think you missed his retirement dinner. The Big Guy left without fanfare. His choice. He didn't want anyone fussing over him. I think it's that Marine mentality.
Thus ends a unique career. I can't imagine there are many folks who can rival the association T.O. had with this University.
He served his country in the U.S. Marine Corps during the not-so-popular Vietnam War. He was in-country from January, 1969 to March, 1970. He was promoted in-country to Sergeant E-5. His primary MOS was 2831, Radio Relay Technician, which explains why, among us older staff members, he took the lead for our department when Towson entered the computer age.
After Vietnam T.O. enrolled at Towson. He played football for the Tigers. Well, he was a kicker, but a very good one (career long 50-yarder). In fact, he had enough foot to get a shot at the NFL when he signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles. He also threw the shot for the Tigers' track team, capturing a Mason-Dixon Conference indoor title. He found plenty of time to make his mark academically too. He was chosen the Baltimore Chamber of Commerce's Football Scholar-Athlete in 1974. He earned his degree in 1975.
He accepted a teaching job in Baltimore City while serving as a volunteer assistant football coach under Towson coach Phil Albert. After three years he left Baltimore for graduate school at Virginia where he earned a Master's degree. He returned to Towson as an assistant football coach again. In 1980 he was hired as Towson's Head Athletics Trainer.
Over the years he has taught classes in the Kinesiology Department. In 1992 he was inducted into the Towson Athletic Hall of Fame. On a national stage he served on the Board of Directors of the National Athletic Trainers Association.
Review: T.O. has been a Towson student, coach, teacher and its head athletics trainer in addition to a membership in Towson's hall of fame. That's an impressive commitment.
He's earned this retirement. For three decades he worked days, nights, weekends. He covered games, supervised treatments and followed an endless trail of paperwork. He missed holidays, family celebrations, dinner with his children because his schedule revolved around an athletics program that fielded 20 varsity sports with almost 500 athletes. Someone had to be responsible for their welfare.
T.O stepped up to the plate and delivered. You might say that a lot is owed to a few by many.
From day one, back in 1980, T.O. worked tirelessly to improve the University's sports medicine program.
The first day T.O. reported to work at Towson, his entire sports medicine staff consisted of himself, a female ATC and four students cramped into small quarters in the bowels of the Towson Center. Today, the staff numbers seven full-time certified athletic trainers and a student staff of 65. The operation is located in the spacious, state-of-the-art 3,800-square foot Ford-Vetter Sports Medicine Facility that has his design mark all over it.
Throughout his career T.O. never stopped negotiating.
"There wasn't a battle he wouldn't fight," says Colleen King, one of T.O.'s many former student athletic trainers who returned to Towson as a full-time professional. "He never stopped fighting for what he believed was right for us."
Over the years I attended hundreds of meetings with him. He never left the room without making his point. His opinions were well-stated, especially if they pertained to sports medicine. If no action was taken by the next meeting, you could be sure he'd bring it up again.
"He was definitely intense," says assistant athletics trainer Dana Parisi, "but his bark was always worse than his bite. I came to learn that what he said was much more important than the way he said it. He's very passionate about the field of athletic training and helping the student-athletes that he gets intense about it."
This intensity spilled out beyond the confines of the training room.
For about 20 years T.O. was part of a racquetball group that gathered at lunchtime. We played. He competed. He won more than he lost but he was never satisfied with the quality of his game. As a result, he took his frustration out on his Ektelon racquets. We all regretted not buying stock in Prince Sports during T.O.'s racquetball playing days.
"It was a great experience working with him," says Brian Bradshaw who is now a member of the athletics training staff at Stevenson University. "When I first took the job at Towson I knew right away I was working with someone who had a great deal of experience and who was very knowledgeable. He's the consummate professional."
At times he was too professional. Early in our careers I recall asking him for an injury report on one of our starting lineman.
"He's got a bucket handle tear of the lateral meniscus," T.O. said.
He's got a what?
"He hurt his knee."
Henceforth I asked for the simple, short version.
Since both T.O. and I are strict meatatarians, we looked for a place to enjoy a good steak or a nice cut of prime rib whenever we traveled, especially on football trips. Our last supper was several weeks ago when we consumed an obnoxious amount of steak at a place called Jankos Little Zegreb in Bloomington, Ind. He was working his final game. I wanted him to go out in style.
T.O., by the way, likes his cut rare. At one of our Friday night dinners years ago in some small college town our waitress was attempting to describe to him what her chef considered rare.
"Well, here's my description," said T.O. "Go out back, rope a streer, knock the horns off it, wipe it off and pass a match in front of it. That's what I call rare."
We usually limited ourselves to one drink before dinner but I swear there were times I'd glance at his plate only to see something still pulsating.
Our travels together took us over a good portion of the United States. We had dinner in San Francisco's Chinatown after spending an afternoon at Alcatraz. We cracked stone crabs in Miami before attending the 1988 Orange Bowl where we saw Miami knock off Oklahoma 20-14. It's tough to beat the breakfast at Governors in Orono, Me. Dallas, Fargo, Boston, Providence, Dayton, Indianapolis, Des Moines, Long Island, Richmond, Jacksonville, Syracuse, and dozens of other cities and towns have similar memories.
T.O.'s itineraries for the next couple of months shadow William & Mary's football schedule. His son, Kyle, is a senior defensive player for the Tribe. T.O. and his wife, Susan, will attend every game.
Their daughter, Sarah, has ambitions of becoming a trainer of a different sort. She'll soon travel to Europe where she'll understudy with some of the best thoroughbred horse trainers in the world.
Other than those activities, T.O. is looking forward to fishing for drum and rockfish at a spot he and a friend know about down in Virginia. On Friday mornings he'll tee off with some old football pals for a round of golf.
Will T.O. be missed around here?
I like the way Dana Parisi answers that.
"In time the university will reflect back to his career but right now it doesn't grasp the magnitude of what he accomplished in the time he was here."
T.O. is certainly leaving behind a legacy. He mentored hundreds of students and treated thousands of athletes.
Most importantly, though, he enhanced the quality of health care for past, present and future Tigers.