Sixteen members of “Papa John’s” clan returned to campus to see his trophy’s new place of honor, prominently situated in the football star’s beloved high school alma mater.
By Mark Vruno
Few people have loved Fenwick High School more than the late John “Johnny” Lattner, Class of 1950, the student-athlete who went on to national stardom on the football field for the University of Notre Dame. In 1953, Lattner won the coveted Heisman Trophy while playing running back for the Fighting Irish. To date, he is the only Illinois high school player to have gone on to win the Heisman.
When Mr. Lattner passed away in early 2016 at the age of 83, his wake was held in the Lawless Gym at Fenwick. At Johnny’s request, his family bequeathed his Heisman Trophy to the school. On Wednesday, May 24, Irish eyes were smiling as three generations of Lattners gathered to see the emotional unveiling of a beautiful case built especially for the only Heisman Trophy that resides in an Illinois high school. “I can hear him,” said Peggy, his widow, as she listened to a recording of her husband’s voice on a pre-ceremony video. (View the Washington Post’s four-minute, “Traveling Heisman” video.)
The event was filled with emotion and pride. “Our Dad grew up on the West Side in a tough neighborhood,” reflected Jack Lattner, one of Johnny’s sons and also a Fenwick alumnus from the Class of ’80. “People discouraged him from going to Notre Dame because they said he wouldn’t play there. He wanted to prove them wrong…. If seeing this trophy in school inspires just one kid that he can do anything, it will have served its purpose here.”