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Forever Friars: Tony Lawless

Coach Lawless (center), flanked by fellow football legend Johnny Lattner '50 (left) and All-State lineman John Carroll '54.

By Mark Vruno

Happy Birthday to Coach Lawless. This year marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of Fenwick legend Tony Lawless. At least we think so. No one still living is certain when Anthony R. Lawless was born. His nephew, Mike, who like his revered uncle has spent a lifetime as an educator and coach -- in the family’s hometown Peoria (IL) High School -- says the elder Lawless often fibbed about his age to prospective employers when he was young. “Uncle Tony wanted jobs but didn’t want them knowing how young he was. So we were never exactly sure how old he was,” Mike Lawless notes with a laugh.

What we do know is this: Tony Lawless graduated from Spalding Institute in Peoria in 1924. He played on the Fighting Irish’s national Catholic high school championship basketball team that year, before moving to Chicago to attend college at Loyola University. He later was inducted into Loyola’s Hall of Fame for both basketball and football.

From The Loyolan 1926 yearbook: “Tony simply kept on going where he left off when he led the Spalding team to the first National Catholic Championship. His work at forward was one of the big sensations of the year. Though rather small, he is compactly built and his chief pleasure was to fool the ‘big boys’ by dribbling around them ….” On the gridiron, Lawless played running back when Loyola and DePaul still had football teams. In 1928 more than 12,000 fans turned out to watch the two teams square off at Cubs’ Park (Wrigley Field). DePaul won that one 12-6. The Ramblers also played Dayton that season at Soldier Field, then traveled south to face Ole Miss.

This past November marked 40 years since the passing of Lawless, who for nearly half a century worked for the students of Fenwick and the school since its inception in 1929. 

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