What Fenwick Means to Me

By Johnny Lattner ’50 (originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times, May 30, 2007)

Growing up on Chicago’s West Side near Cicero and Madison, I could have gone to St. Mel, St. Phillip, Austin or St. Ignatius. I decided on Fenwick because I knew it was a good academic school and I had heard about the football program coached by Tony Lawless.

I was a big kid in eighth grade, 6-1, more recruited for basketball than football, and I almost went to St. Phillip because of coach Bill Shay, who later coached at Fenwick. But I wanted to see if I could play football at Fenwick. It was a challenge.

Lattner, who passed away in 2016, was an All-State football player for the Friars in 1948 and ’49 and won the Heisman Trophy at the University of Notre Dame in 1953.

At the time, I didn’t know if I would go to college. Neither of my parents nor my older brother and sister went to college. They couldn’t afford it. At Fenwick, I learned a lot. I wasn’t dumb, but it took me a year to acclimate to the school. And Lawless taught me so much.

Fenwick had won the city championship in 1945. I went to the game at Soldier Field and was impressed. I knew Lawless was a hard-nosed coach who taught the fundamentals of blocking and tackling. He was a winner, a legendary figure on the West Side.

He taught me persistence and fundamentals, not to think of today but of tomorrow, how to compete, to keep improving.

“[Coach] Lawless taught me … persistence and fundamentals, not to think of today but of tomorrow, how to compete, to keep improving.”

the late, great John Lattner ’50

Lattner (left) with Coach Lawless and John Carroll ’54.

I never regretted my decision to go to Fenwick.

Learning to play both ways – I also was a defensive back – helped me to win the Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame. I went there because, like Fenwick, it was a challenge. Some people said I wasn’t fast enough and never would play at Notre Dame, that I’d just be another number on the roster.

But Lawless taught me to stick to my books, to hang in there, to play when you’re hurt.

It helped me to get through Notre Dame. I was in awe of the program … Frank Leahy, Leon Hart, Terry Brennan, Johnny Lujack, George Conner.

They were unbeaten for four years. I hoped to make a name for myself.

READ MORE ABOUT MR. LATTNER

“Fenwick Community Gathers to Say Goodbye to Johnny Lattner.”

2 Replies to “What Fenwick Means to Me”

  1. The back of Mr. Lattner’s Mass card might be the most inspiring words to describe any man.

    I learned during his eulogy he went home, a bit after accepting the Heisman Trophy in New York, back to the west side of Chicago to sleep 💤 🛌 on the trundle bed that he shared with his brother while his mother and sister slept in the one bedroom, as his father had worked nights. What a springboard Fenwick was for him and his descendants.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.