If These Halls Could Talk: The Hilarious Case of Maguire University

How the fictitious ‘school’ came to be – even though it never was a real college.

By Mark Vruno

The more I learn about Maguire University, the more my stomach hurts from laughing. It is difficult not to laugh, or at least smile and smirk a little. I first caught wind of Maguire U last winter in the Faculty Cafeteria at Fenwick, sitting and chewing the proverbial fat with John Quinn ’76, Fenwick alumnus, longtime social studies teacher and Catholic League Hall of Fame basketball coach.

The conversation turned to the late, great John Lattner, who had passed away about a year earlier. Mr. Quinn was laughing, almost snorting, between bites: “Did you ever hear about Maguire University?” he chuckled, nearly choking. No, I had never heard of that school, I said, wondering what the heck was so funny. Little did I know!

It is good that Quinn is one of Fenwick’s unofficial school historians because, as it turns out, there is nothing official about Maguire U. The infamous university was “created” 55 years ago in a semi-respectable Madison Street establishment in nearby Forest Park called, what else: Maguire’s. With the annual March Madness basketball craze upon us, this is how the story goes …

Humble Beginnings

The athletic recruiting game was quite different, for both Catholic high schools and major college sports programs, in the 1960s – three decades before the Internet was birthed and long before “social” media platforms such as Twitter reared their electronic heads. Back then, if a coach wanted an eighth-grader to play for him at a certain high school, it was in his best interest to find out where the kid’s old man hung out socially and maybe get invited to a confirmation or graduation party.

It wasn’t much different for college coaches recruiting Chicago-area talent, particularly for the football gridiron and hardwood basketball courts. They knew where to go to meet a concentration of high school coaches in the city: Maguire’s.

Every February Chicago Catholic League (CCL) football coaches congregate at the league’s annual clinic in Oak Park at Fenwick, where the powwow has been held every winter for the past 72 years. Older fans will recall that, in the 1960s and ’70s, Fenwick and the CCL were recruiting hotbeds for Big Ten football coaches, including University of Michigan legend Bo Schembechler. Some coaches also may recall that, a few years back, a keg could be found tapped in the school’s lower-level student “green” cafeteria, where the post-clinic fraternizing commenced. Nowadays the coaches toast their religion and each other on Madison Street in Forest Park, which is exactly where the college coaches knew where to find them back in the day.

The Fat Duck Tavern & Grill now sets across the street in Forest Park from where Maguire’s used to be.

Giving the tavern a school’s name originally was the brainchild of college recruiters in town to woo the coaches of prospects from Chicago. Telling their athletic directors, to whom they reported back at the real universities, that they were conducting business at “Maguire University” sounded more respectable than Maguire’s Pub. Hence, the pseudonym was born.

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Friars Basketball Legends to Have Jerseys Retired

Three women’s basketball superstars from Fenwick – Erin Lawless, Devereaux Peters and Tricia Liston — soon will have their numbers hanging from the rafters in the Catholic school’s gym.

Compiled by Mark Vruno

All_Three

Tricia Liston (from left), Devereaux Peters and Erin Lawless back in their Fenwick days.

In the illustrious, nearly 90-year history of Fenwick High School, only two retired jerseys have been displayed atop the Fieldhouse Gymnasium: those of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Lattner ’50 (football) and former NBA player Corey Maggette ’98 (boys’ basketball). But that number is about to more than double in a pregame ceremony (2:30 p.m.) on January 13th, when the jersey numbers of three alumnae will be added: Erin Lawless #34Tricia Liston #32 and Devereaux Peters #14.

“Lattner and Maggette: That’s some elite athletic company,” observes Dave Power, Head Girls’ Varsity Basketball Coach who mentored all three of the honorees when they played for his Friars. “Each of these women is so well deserving of this recognition from our school,” adds Coach Power, now in his 41st year of coaching (first at Proviso West, then at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Westchester).

Power is one of only three 900 (935 now and counting) game-winning basketball coaches in Illinois history, and teams on which the trio of Lawless, Peters and Liston played contributed to nearly 43% of that win total. Keep in mind that Fenwick was an all-boys institution for its first 63 years; it went coed in 1992 – the year Power came to Fenwick. Here, in chronological order, is who these players are, what they did at Fenwick, and what they’ve done since moving on from Oak Park:

#34 Shoots, She Scores!

ErinLawless_at_Purdue

Lawless played her powerball for the Boilermakers.

Erin Lawless ’03 is no relation to legendary Fenwick Coach Tony Lawless, but the 6’2” Berwyn native set her own reputation as a center on the hardwood. Post-Fenwick, Lawless played in the Big Ten at women’s basketball powerhouse Purdue University. She also played professionally, briefly for the WNBA’s Indiana Fever and then in Europe, where she enjoyed an eight-year career.

As a Friar Lawless won a state championship* (AA) as a sophomore and twice earned first-team All-State honors (as a junior and senior). Other highlights:

  • scored more than 2,000 career points in high school
  • averaged 21.6 points per game as a senior
  • as a junior, averaged 21.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4 blocked shots and 3.7 assists (the Friars went 30-4)
  • scored a school-record 51 points vs. St. Ignatius
  • overall record: 125-12

Lawless was the Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year in ’03 and a McDonald’s and Nike/WBCA All-American. She was first runner-up for the Chicago Tribune’s Ms. Basketball in Illinois. (Naperville Central junior Candace Parker won her second Ms. Basketball title that year, and would win her third as a senior in 2004. In the ’03 state title game, the Friars lost to Parker’s Redhawks by four points in overtime.) Lawless was named second-team Parade All-American and third-team USA Today All-American.

Such accolades are even more impressive for the tall, former seventh grader — Lawless was 5’11” at age 12 — who started playing hoops on doctor’s orders at Lincoln Middle School (Berwyn). Two years earlier, “I was diagnosed with a rare blood disease called ITP,” she was quoted in a Purdue University publication as a college freshman in 2003. ITP is short for idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, an autoimmune disease that causes a low platelet count in the blood. (Sonya Lawless, Erin’s mother, also suffers from the condition.) “My hematologist told me that if I picked up a basketball, it actually builds up my immune system and would help keep me active and keep me healthy,” Lawless said.

Once she caught the basketball bug, Erin’s late Uncle Bud helped her to hone her skills. Fast forward three years, to when Lawless cracked the starting varsity line-up as a Fenwick freshman in 1999-2000. The rest, as they say, is history. The ITP has gone into remission, and basketball probably played a large role in helping to build up her immune system and get the platelet count to a safe level.

Today, Lawless is in her second year of coaching at La Plata High School in Maryland, where she lives with her husband and two-year-old daughter. She also teaches Chemistry and AP Environmental Science. “The team I coach has not had a successful track record, and I am working on changing that for the program,” she reports. The 32-year-old adds, “While I have ‘retired’ from basketball, I continue to get offers to play — and if the opportunity presents itself, I may just go back!”

#14 Perseveres through Adversity

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