Suddenly, 50 years go by.

A magical season that seems like not that long ago for some and several lifetimes ago for others happened at Fenwick High School in 1962. Like many high schools, Fenwick was particularly enthused about its football team for the ’62 season. Fans turned out in the thousands to see local rivals battle it out in the daylight at Oak Park Stadium. John Jardine was Fenwick’s 27-year-old head coach. Tony Lawless was athletic director; Dan O’Brien was the trainer; the only two assistants were 27-year old backfield coach Rudy Gaddini and line coach Jack Lewis. While several members of the coaching staff and team are now deceased, the majority of the ’62 team members are still with us. On Sept. 8 the squad will reunite and attend Fenwick’s football game against St. Rita at Morton West Stadium (7:30 p.m.).

Jardine arrived in ’59

The ’62 team wasn’t just any team and it wasn’t just any year for high school football. Fenwick had been flirting with the top spot among Illinois high schools for many years. Jardine arrived at Fenwick in ’59. Jardine, the son of Chicago Water Commissioner James Jardine, had starred at Purdue just two years prior. He recruited Fenwick and Michigan State football alum Rudy Gaddini to coach the backfield and install a cutting-edge Wing-T offense. Fenwick earned its way to the Prep Bowl in ’58 and ’59, losing to Lane Tech and Austin, respectively. Mt. Carmel bested Fenwick in ’60 in a Soldier Field classic. Weber beat out Fenwick in ’61. But by the next season, the Friars were ready to roll again.  

No platooning

In those days, many conferences, including the Chicago Catholic League, allowed only limited substitutions. Players went both ways on offense and defense. Returning starters had to battle it out with teammates looking to move up. One returning starter who wasn’t going to get beat out was Jim DiLullo, a 198-pound fullback who had been running over and around defenders since his sophomore season. He was joined in the backfield by quarterback John Gorman and halfbacks Tim Wengierski, current Oak Park resident Dan Dinello, and Tony Mitchell. The line included several players who went on to play in college, including team captain Joe Marsico of River Forest (Notre Dame), Dick Ambrosino of Oak Park (Northern Michigan and future Fenwick head coach), Jim Gatziolis (Nebraska), Jim Daniels (Brown), Jim Selcke (Nebraska) and Mike Barry (Southern Illinois). Matt Hayes and Joe Cirrincione played end, among others.

The ’62 Catholic League season

Fenwick started the season in convincing fashion, putting away each Catholic League opponent starting with Mt. Carmel and allowing none of them to even score. When Fenwick bested Weber 16-0 before 9,000 fans jammed into Oak Park Stadium, supporters started to believe that this might be the year for the Friars. By late October they had not lost and had not been scored on. When finally St. Phillip became the first team to score on Fenwick, it made the front page of the Chicago Tribune sports section. Fenwick played their final three games at Soldier Field, defeating St. Rita 39-6 and Leo 34-6 in the Catholic League finals. Fenwick was back in the Prep Bowl on Dec. 1, 1962, against the champion of the Chicago Public League, Schurz High School.

The 40-0 Prep Bowl

There were no state football championships at that time and Chicago-area residents viewed the Prep Bowl as the ultimate Illinois high school game. In the week leading up to the contest, the papers ran many stories including the possibility that the game might draw 90,000 fans to Soldier Field. Although Fenwick had won the 1945 Prep Bowl and been in five others, the Friars had never been undefeated. On the day of the game, the Chicago Tribune sports section’s headline read “Schurz, Fenwick Battle for Title.” The next day the headline read “91,328 See Fenwick Rout Schurz, 40-0.” A front page banner read “Fenwick City Champs! Navy Wins, Notre Dame Loses.”

DiLullo had the game of his life, scoring five touchdowns and racking up 224 yards rushing on only 12 carries. A key play followed the second half kickoff when Fenwick’s John Santoro fielded the ball at the 3-yard line but touched his knee to the ground and killed the play. This enabled DiLullo to take a handoff on the next play and go a record 97 yards for a touchdown. DiLullo scored again later, this time from 70 yards out.

Schurz didn’t get beyond Fenwick’s 45-yard line until late in the game. Coach Jardine started sitting his starters midway through the third quarter. It was the most lopsided win in Prep Bowl history. Fenwick was undefeated in 10 games and had scored 317 points to its opponents’ 32. The Friars probably completed 30 passes all year, but had as many interceptions and fumble recoveries. Safety John Gorman finished with a whopping 11 interceptions on the season.

Fifteen Fenwick players were recruited to play Division I football. DiLullo, Marsico, Wengierski, Dan Gibbs, and Bill Skoglund all played at Notre Dame. Gorman went on to play football and basketball at Michigan State. Jim Daniels captained the Brown University football team, while Phil Giacinti captained at John Carroll University. Ken Hayes played at Purdue. Mike Barry played at SIU and coached in the NFL. Bob Kurcz led the nation in interceptions at Holy Cross.

The biggest man on the field by far was 245-pound tackle Jim Gatziolis, who had a cup of coffee with the Chicago Bears.

Jardine ended up finishing with a 51-6-1 coaching record at Fenwick. He went on to become the head coach at the University of Wisconsin from 1970-1977. Gaddini later coached at Nebraska and Milton College. Several players went into coaching, including Selcke, Ambrosino, Barry, and Wengierski.

Local resident George Vrechek was also a member of the 1962 Fenwick football team. 

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