Although it is called the boxing ring, it is really a rope-enclosed square in which the practitioners of the sweet science compete in fisticuffs.
The recent news that the US Olympic Boxing Trials will be held in Reno on Dec. 7-12 means that Northern Nevada will regain some of the luster it once had as a boxing hot spot.
I hope to be present at some of the early bouts, which will be held at the Silver Legacy. The finals will take place at the Reno Events Center.
My interest in boxing, which has been called the sweet science by many sports reporters, dates back to the time when I was a youngster of eight or nine. The reason for this is that my dad, who was a Golden Gloves competitor, would always utter the phrase, “Put ‘em up, Harry” when he came home at night. We would then engage in an open-palm sparring session until dinner time. Another early fistic encounter would usually occur when I would get a panic call from one of my school mates informing me that my younger brother was engaged in a fight with a larger individual. These encounters were usually quickly settled due to the tips my father had passed on to me.
Later on, when I was in the fifth to eighth grade, I was enrolled in Catholic grammar school in Cape May, New Jersey. Occasionally we were visited by teaching Jesuit priests whom we called “Jevvies” because of their inordinate interest in sports. At that time, there were numerous CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) clubs located in many towns in South Jersey. Once the Jevvies got wind of the fact that I could handle my dukes, they would show up at my house and transport me all over the area to box against my peers.
My only pugilistic encounter in high school occurred when I saw the school bully, Red Meehan, stealing the lunch money of a much younger student. I remarked, “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” Meehan retorted, “You’re about my size!” even though he was obviously 20 pounds heavier than myself. The next minute we were out on the school yard, and while standing, I managed to give him a bloody nose because in all my fights I was instructed to aim for the proboscis. Eventually he bull-rushed me and we tussled on the ground. Toward the end of the fight he was astride my chest and attempting to pin me. Somehow I managed to lock my feet underneath his chin and snap him backwards. There was a loud ‘crack’ and he lay writhing on the ground. Later, when I checked in to class, a diminutive nun who had witnessed the fight from a second-story window said, “You handled yourself pretty well.”
My last challenge as a pugilist came when I was in Army basic training in Florida. A fellow soldier from an adjoining squad hut named Bob Shipman approached me and said that he heard I knew something about boxing and that he would appreciate it if I would help him with some of the basics so he could join the company boxing team. I told him to get a couple pairs of boxing gloves from the day room and I would meet him after the evening meal. During the training session, the commanding officer chanced to walk by and asked me how much I weighed. When I told him, he said, “We need a guy your weight to complete our boxing team.” I was quick to note that I was only training fighters and not interested in competing. His curt response was, “You WILL be on the boxing team.”
As it turned out, there were a few perks to being on the team, such as skipping Army training the day of a fight and taking meals at the officers’ mess. The downside was that several of my opponents sported cauliflower ears, a lot of scar tissue and flattened noses. Another disquieting occurrence was that when we would show up for the weigh-in and the other guy was quite a bit heavier, the sergeant in charge would say, “Sorry kid. The scale’s broken.”
After a half-dozen bouts in the outside arena in front of thousands of GI’s, my Army boxing career mercifully came to an end when I shipped out to another base.
Boxing greats that I’ve come across include Sparks’ Jack Streeter, who was a national AAU Light Heavyweight champ, Mills Lane, local boxer and famous referee, and former Heavyweight champ Sonny Liston who trained in the Mapes Sky Room for his only Reno fight.
Another close friend was legendary U of N Boxing coach Jimmy Olivas.