Lattner name lives on at Fenwick

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Fenwick legend Johnny Lattner, the 1953 Heisman Trophy winner from Notre Dame, attends nearly every Friars basketball game featuring his grandsons Robert Spillane (No. 33) and Luke Lattner (No. 31).

At Tuesday’s Fenwick basketball game, I started a debate with former Suburban Life sports writer Pete Gleason on who was the greatest athlete to come out of Fenwick. I thought it was the 79-year-old Johnny Lattner, the school’s Heisman Trophy winner, who was later drafted by the Steelers. Pete thought it was Corey Maggette, the former basketball star who is currently on the roster for the Charlotte Bobcats in his 12th year in the NBA. Both Lattner and Maggette have had their jerseys retired by the Friars.

Neither of us saw Lattner play, but I like to believe that legends must have been pretty great in their day to become legends. Lattner’s name and Fenwick’s athletic tradition are synonymous. According to Wikipedia, he played only one season with the Steelers before going into the Air Force. He suffered an injury in a game there that ended his professional career. Lattner lives in Melrose Park and apparently still gets together with old buddies for a weekly chat over coffee at an Oak Park restaurant.

Now Lattner’s grandsons are playing basketball and football for the Friars. Hinsdale resident Luke Lattner, a junior starting guard and one of the team’s leading scorers, is the son of John. Oak Park resident Robert Spillane, a sophomore reserve forward, is the son of Gretchen. Neither of the grandsons are Division I-caliber basketball players. They look like football players playing basketball. They are Lattner tough. Luke doesn’t play football, but his twin brother John was a wide receiver-defensive back last season. Their cousin Dan was a junior quarterback. Robert played on the varsity football team as a running back-linebacker. After Tuesday’s 57-45 loss to neighborhood rival Oak Park-River Forest at Fenwick, I noticed new Fenwick football coach Gene Nudo chatting with Robert after the game. Nudo attended his first Fenwick home basketball game since being introduced as coach just one week earlier.

Lattner or Maggette? Maybe I need to defer to Gleason, an Oak Park native currently living in River Forest. Gleason saw Maggette play many more times than I did, which was usually limited to appearances at the Proviso West Holiday tournament. Maybe I didn’t appreciate Maggette enough. The argument reminds of the famous quote that ends John Ford’s classic “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” The reporter turns to Jimmy Stewart’s Rance Stoddard to tell him: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

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