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Ann Arbor 200

Prentiss Ware: Optimism In The Face Of Adversity

Author
Darla Welshons
Year
2024

"One of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet." It has been 70 years since the death of Prentiss 'Prenty' Ware, and Duane Calvert, his former high school football teammate, still remembers him with great admiration. "I thought the world of him" said Calvert, who was audibly smiling during our phone call. Faced with numerous obstacles pushing him backward, Prenty was consistently "100% forward" and lived his brief life to the fullest. 

Prenty Ware In The Air
Prenty Ware Soars During Ann Arbor High School Football Practice, Ann Arbor News, September 1950

Prentiss 'Prenty' Ware was born October 14, 1934 in Michigan. Few details are known about his early years. At some point between 1935 and 1940 he became the ward of Ingram & Augusta ‘Gussie’ Sloan. Throughout his life he would be referred to as an orphan. The Sloans, a married couple in their 50s, owned a home at 207 Mosley Street in Ann Arbor. Ingram was a truck driver for the John Crane Coal Company. Tragedy struck the Sloans in August 1940 when Ingram died of heart disease. In the summer of 1941, Gussie married Richard Skelton, who would become the father figure in Prenty's life.

Prentiss Ware, AAHS Student Council 1950/51
Prentiss Ware - Student Council Vice President, Ann Arbor High School Yearbook, 1951

Prenty attended the Ann Arbor Public Schools. It was at Slauson Junior High that he found success in athletics, specifically football, track, and softball. He also landed a starring role in Slauson's production of the operetta Steamboat A'Comin'. With his warm personality, he was popular and served a term as president of Slauson Junior High's Student Council.

In high school, he continued to flourish. In his sophomore year, the 1949 Ann Arbor High School (AAHS) football team won their first 5-A League Championship since 1945, and Prenty established himself as a fleet-footed running back. AAHS students broke tradition in May 1950 when they elected Prenty, only a sophomore, as vice president of the high school's Student Council. That same year, he served as president of his sophomore class.

Prenty became a standout runner on Coach Tim Ryan's AAHS track team as well, but his true passion was on the football field. He became one of Michigan's fastest high school running backs, and helped the 1950 AAHS football team win another 5-A League Championship.

Prenty & Ray
Prenty Ware & Ray Karsian At AAHS Football Practice, Ann Arbor News, September 1950

It was during his junior year that Prenty faced a series of illnesses which left him completely deaf. This unthinkable turn of events labeled him "handicapped" in the eyes of 1950s education, and students in his situation often dropped out of high school altogether. Prenty, who maintained academic success, was a star athlete, and was wildly popular among his peers for his unfailing optimism and warm personality, was not left behind. Instead, Ann Arbor High School coaches, teachers, and friends, rallied around him.

It was John Allison who helped Prenty learn to lip read. John Allison was a teacher, a counselor, a "special consultant for boys", and a "special consultant on student adjustment problems" at Ann Arbor High School. Today we would simply call him a Special Education teacher. He successfully--and reportedly speedily--taught Prenty the skill of lip reading. John Allison spent his career working for special needs students in the Ann Arbor schools. In 1952, the local American Legion named him Outstanding Citizen for the year, and Prenty was on stage with him when he accepted his award.

John Allison, Citizen Of the Year
Prenty Ware Watches John Allison Receive Citizen Of The Year Award, Ann Arbor News, May 1952

Having learned the skill of lip reading, Prenty was determined to get back on the football field for his senior year of high school. Throughout the summer, he had friends "talk numbers" to him, helping him practice lip reading that would serve him well for football plays. When the season arrived, he felt ready. According to Duane Calvert, Coach Hank Fonde devised accommodations. In huddles Prenty would be directly across from the quarterback, for optimal lip reading. They also created a counting system for starting plays, so he would know just the right time to move. Duane Calvert, Prenty's former teammate, said there were times when a play would happen and Prenty would be spotted in the wrong part of the field, having misread the instructions. He said both Prenty and his team would laugh about it, and eventually they all mastered the system.

Prenty Ware At Football Practice, 1951
Prenty Ware At Football Practice, Ann Arbor News, September 1951

October 14, 1951 was a memorable day in the life of Prentiss Ware. Ann Arbor High's football team faced Battle Creek High School. It also happened to be Prenty's birthday. Late in the third quarter of the game, Prenty ran a 12-yard sweep and scored the game's only touchdown. When the night was over, his elated teammates carried him off the field. When they stopped in Marshall for dinner on the way home, a surprise birthday cake was waiting for him at Schuler's. The team went on to win more games, and yet another 5-A League Championship. Prenty had proved himself by playing through the season, and playing well, a feat celebrated by the entire team. After the final game of the season, the Ann Arbor News ran an article titled "Ware Overcomes Real Handicap". "This is the "now it can be told" story of a great and gutty schoolboy football player..." In December, Ann Arbor's elite All-City Football Team was announced, and Prenty had been selected.

All City Football Team 1951
Prenty (Back Row) Selected For Ann Arbor's 1951 All-City Football Team, Ann Arbor News, December 1951
Prenty's Senior Yearbook Entry
Prentiss Ware - Class of 1952, Ann Arbor High School Yearbook

After graduating from Ann Arbor High School, with help from the State of Michigan and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Prenty enrolled at the Western Michigan College of Education. Initially he did not aim to play football. He planned on working part-time, to earn money towards correcting his hearing loss. When doctors eventually diagnosed his situation as irreparable, Prenty quit his job and joined Western's football team. Despite his late arrival, he earned a spot as a running back by the season's end.

Prenty's first year as a Bronco on Western's football team was a success. During his second year, coaching staff called him the fastest and most clever sophomore on the team. His incredible speed had earned him a varsity spot, and he played in many games. At the end of July 1954, the summer before his junior year at Western, Prenty paid a visit to Head Coach Jack Petoskey's house. On his way home to the Skelton residence in Ann Arbor, Prenty drove through a rain storm near Jackson, Michigan. His car skidded on wet pavement, swerved into the path of oncoming traffic, and was demolished. He was killed instantly. Shock spread through Western Michigan College, as well as Prenty's former Ann Arbor High School community. More than 60 grief stricken members of the AAHS Class of 1952 immediately gathered together to mourn his loss. Duane Calvert, Prenty's former teammate, refers to the event as "the tragedy".

Prentiss Ware, 20 years old, was buried in Plymouth's United Memorial Gardens. Richard Skelton was buried next to him when he died in 1968. After Richard's death, Gussie sold the home on Mosley, and it was torn down to make way for an apartment building. Gussie Skelton, in her old age, moved to Georgia to be with extended family. She died, and was buried, there in 1974.

 

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Ann Arbor District Library
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Ann Arbor 200 release #56
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