Hall of Famer

Fifty years after his athletic triumphs, Donald Schlapprizzi is still MVP

Published in 2007 Missouri & Kansas Super Lawyers — November 2007

Because he’s a naturally modest guy, St. Louis attorney Don Schlapprizzi downplays his athletic accomplishments.

“I just fell into it,” says Schlapprizzi, who was a team captain, record holder and letter winner at St. Louis’ Cleveland High School and later at Washington University in St. Louis. “I simply had a natural bent in that direction. I think most people tend to do things they can do fairly well. I was blessed with pretty good hand-eye coordination, so I was naturally drawn to sports.” 

But his alma matter had no qualms about trumpeting his collegiate athletic career in January when it inducted Schlapprizzi into the Washington University Sports Hall of Fame.

This hall of famer shrugs and credits his prowess to good genes. “My dad was an 11-letter winner at Cleveland High,” Schlapprizzi says. “My mother’s brother played for the New York Yankees. He played in the World Series.”

When Schlapprizzi graduated from high school, he was approached by recruiters who promised a ticket straight to the big leagues. “I could’ve signed a contract,” he recalls, “but my dad said, ‘If you’re any good, another four years is not going to put an end to it. Get your education.’ So that’s what I did.”

Schlapprizzi started college at the University of Missouri and after a year won a scholarship to Washington University, where, in 1959, he earned both his undergraduate and law degrees. 

While he was at Wash U, Schlapprizzi studied hard and played hard, becoming a letter winner in football and baseball, and setting several school records in both sports. His list of accomplishments include leading his baseball team to a 64-14 record in four seasons, being named most valuable player after hitting a .314 average, setting the school record in football twice for pass receptions in a single game and catching touchdown passes in each of his four years on the team. 

By the time he graduated, though, a career as a pro athlete seemed unlikely. 

“In college, I got hurt a little bit,” Schlapprizzi says. “It just didn’t work out.” He pauses, and adds: “It’s like anything else. You never know what would’ve been. As it turns out, I’ve been pretty blessed with the way things happened.” 

So, instead of joining the big leagues, he went to work for James W. Jeans, an attorney who became a valuable mentor. “He was a wonderful friend,” says Schlapprizzi of Jeans, who died in October 2006. “We were very close.” 

Schlapprizzi has headed his eponymous firm since 1981, working as a trial lawyer with an emphasis in medical issues. He employs three other attorneys, and he has argued a number of cases before the Missouri Supreme Court. 

He credits his success to all those hours on the playing field.

“I’m very convinced that the discipline, teamwork and work ethic required to succeed on a sports team translates well into professional life,” Schlapprizzi says. “When things are going tough, an athlete knows you need to stand in there a little longer. You know that to truly succeed you need to work with others, that you can’t do it alone. It’s all there, and I learned it in sports.”  

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