John and Sallie Prince trace their history with football back to the 1930s, when John’s father Willard was the editor and publisher of the DAC Journal, the house organ of the Downtown Athletic Club in lower Manhattan. In 1935, Willard founded the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award, football’s most coveted honor.
mark ingram football“When I was seven, my dad brought the ballots home from the office,” John Prince remembered. “My brother, sister and I counted them. This was the first and last time ballot counting was handled this way before the DAC got an accounting firm to handle it.” The winner that night was Jay Berwanger. Following the 1936 death of former coach John Heisman, the athletic director of the DAC, the award was renamed the Heisman Memorial Trophy.
John and Sallie turned their family passion toward a cause close to their hearts—Multiple Sclerosis. They have raised about $300,000 the last 26 years for the Society through auctioning footballs autographed by Heisman winners at chapters throughout the country. “We try to tie the donation to the chapter of the state the winner comes from,” John said. This year, the football, signed by Mark Ingram from University of Alabama, will go to the Alabama-Mississippi chapter.
john sallie and leslie birthdayWhen the Princes' daughter Leslie was diagnosed with MS in the 1970s, they found the closest chapter in Wilmington, Delaware and sat down with them, learning all they could. John joined the chapter’s board and is now a life member. “John was able to get Berwanger to come to a celebrity golf tournament, where they auctioned the first of the signed footballs,” Sallie said. John and Sallie attended many Heisman ceremonies and took six footballs to be autographed by that year’s winner and other earlier winners. In recent years, the Heisman Trust has sent two or three signed balls to the Princes to donate to chapters as well as to a home for abused children in North Carolina, close to where the Princes live with Leslie.
For the past decade, the Princes have been Leslie's primary caretakers, although this year they hired full-time live-in help. “As long as we can take care of Leslie at home, we will. The amazing thing is her disposition. She smiles all the time and friends are very caring with her. We really have so many people in our lives now who we never would have met if not for MS,” Sallie said.
John and Sallie are proud of Leslie’s accomplishments, remembering her 17 years as an executive at Hallmark. “She had a marvelous career. They hired her and promoted her, knowing she had MS,” John said. Leslie’s brother, Whitney, helps every winter to drive the family to their second home in Florida. “Last time, he left his iPod for Leslie to listen to and set up the computer so she could see him when he calls,” Sallie said.
Even though Leslie herself doesn’t quite love football the way her dad does, he says she’s pleased by what he does to fight MS. And the Heisman legacy has definitively affected her life, in more ways than one. “One time she had an open house for a local charity. She had quite a bit of Heisman memorabilia in the kitchen, and all the men congregated there,” John laughed.
For now, the Princes plan to keep giving. “As long as we get the footballs, we’ll put them to good use.”