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Battle Hymn – Part 2: The Gift

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The 1934 Chicago Golden Gloves Team on the way to New York. Tony Zale, 19, is in the back row, second from left. Aaron Wade, 17, and heretofore unidentified, stands in the middle row at far left.

Four years after roving gangs terrorized Chicago’s South Side during the Race Riots of 1919, the publisher of the Chicago Tribune began a campaign to legalize boxing in Illinois. He sought to prove that the sport was not only all-American, but that it could curb juvenile delinquency. As a direct result of his efforts, the state’s ban was lifted in 1925. “We then saw our way clear to establishing a huge tourney that would do untold good in keeping youngsters off the street,” said the Tribune sports editor, “—channeling their energies into a recreational sport that would keep them out of trouble.”

The first Chicago Golden Gloves Tournament was held in 1928. There were no African American entries that year, but everyone knew that would change. In 1932, the tournament was expanded to include teams from surrounding cities. Peoria was among them.

Jack Beaty pulled his REO to the curb at 142 Green Street in Peoria and honked the horn. To the Wade boys inside, that honk marked the beginning of another great adventure. They kissed Willie Mae goodbye and spilled outside with bags stuffed with shirts, socks, and boxing gear. They climbed into a crowded back seat, an integrated back seat, and Beaty peeled off to wherever a boxing competition was being held.

Inevitably a voice from the back seat would chirp, “Where we goin’?” Inevitably came the reply: “What’s the difference?”

Affectionately called “Trick Hip” and “Short House,” Beaty was a World War I veteran who devoted forty years of his life to Peoria’s wayward boys. He gave them boxing; and so gave them its gifts: an outlet for aggression, discipline and structure, a sense of purpose, a chance for glory, a place to go. He was, said one of his fighters, “like a second father to us all.”

In those days, amateur boxers could earn merchandise checks for between $7 and $25, win or lose. It’s hard to imagine Willie Mae objecting to that, and there’s nothing quite like a sharp coat and snap-brim hat to encourage a poor boy to want more.

In 1933, middleweight Bruce and lightweight Aaron Wade were part of the Peoria Elks Boxing Team. Beaty was the manager with trainers nicknamed “Wimpy” and “Bat” assisting him. Bruce was good, but Aaron was special—short and wiry with arms so long he looked like he could tie his shoes standing up. It was estimated that he had 600 amateur bouts, maybe more. “In those years,” a teammate recalled, “we rarely trained—we didn’t have time. Oftentimes we’d make two or three ring appearances in a week.”

In early 1934, Aaron competed in Chicago’s “Tournament of Champions” and made it to the semi-finals. Meanwhile, sports editor Arch Ward was touting Ray Wosniak, a light heavyweight from Chicago’s North Side who was crashing through opponents like a berserker. Ward said Wosniak was “a mortal cinch” to win the tournament. A member of the Peoria team recalled watching a large, tan-skinned teenager from the Detroit team into the ring to face Wosniak. Known as “Poker-Face Joe,” he looked bored as he shuffled out from the corner. Wosniak let fly a left hook—“and,” said the witness “woke up in the dressing room.” Joe Louis Barrow had countered that hook with a perfectly-timed uppercut, then returned to his corner like a man in his slippers returning to bed after a midnight snack. After Aaron won his semi-final match, Joe stopped another opponent cold with a right hand that travelled six inches or less.

In March, the Chicago team boarded a train due east for the Seventh Annual Intercity Golden Gloves Tournament. Aaron Wade was among thirty-two chosen from a field of 14,000 to compete under the lights at Madison Square Garden. Future light heavyweight champion Gus Lesnevich competed as a middleweight. He wore the blue and gold trim of the New York team and took the closest decision in the finals. Wearing white and blue with Aaron on the Chicago team was future champion and Hall of Famer Tony Zale, then 19. A middleweight who volunteered to fight as a light heavyweight after Joe Louis injured his hand, Zale managed to floor his larger opponent in the first round, but lost a decision.

Aaron, two years younger than Zale, was one of only three African Americans on the Chicago side. He and them would have had to contend with racist slurs, which is one thing on a city block and quite another in an arena filled with 20,000. He shut his ears to it and made it to the finals. As he stood alone in the spotlight with a sweater thrown around his shoulders, the ring announcer hollered his name, record, occupation (“shoe shine boy”), and hometown into a microphone. A drum roll followed. Aaron probably thought it was his heart rattling out of his chest. He was up against a two-time lightweight champion of New York who had scored four knockouts in the Manhattan preliminaries.

Aaron lost “by inches” according to the Chicago Tribune.

What he gained was immeasurable.

“We are certain that the Golden Gloves tournaments are the greatest levelers in sports,” said the editors of the Tribune. To the sons of black migrants during the Depression era, it was a gift that kept on giving. The editors knew their secret. They knew that even novices had the essential ingredient of natural fighters coded in the scars of fathers who were not there, in stories told and retold by mothers and grandmothers, in rocks thrown when invisible lines were crossed. What was a bloody nose compared to the soul-searing pain of the black experience in America?

They wanted to fight. They wanted that chance denied their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents. So they took those first shy steps into boys’ clubs and boxing gyms and soon filled the amateur ranks in an around the receiving stations of the Great Migration—Chicago, St. Louis, and New York.

To Aaron Wade, the arena spotlight was no different than the morning sunlight glancing off his mother’s leavin’ train. It meant he was going somewhere. He was Peoria’s first black Golden Gloves champion; he saw his name in print in local newspapers. When white people stopped him on the street to shake his hand, he could look them square in the eye like an equal —like more than an equal.

He might have noticed older folks a little ways off, watching, and smiling to themselves.

 

 

 

 

 


Photo: Chicago Amateur Boxing by Sean Curtain and J.J. Johnston, pp 16-17.

Undated article by Kenneth Jones Chuck in Burrough’s Scrapbook, courtesy of Peoria Public Library; Come out Fighting by Chuck Burroughs (1977), p. 7; Joe Louis: My Life by Joe Louis with Edna and Art Rust, Jr. p. 24 (1978); Chicago Daily Tribune 3/29/34; New York Times 3/28, 29/1934; “Negroes in the Golden Gloves” by Arch Ward, undated reprint in Ebony magazine.

Special thanks to Elaine Sokolowski, recently retired from Peoria Public Library.

Springs Toledo can be contacted at scalinatella@hotmail.com.

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Fast Results From London: Joshua Takes Out Povetkin in the 7th

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UK sporting

It was a very wet night at Wembley Stadium, but the dampness didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd which welcomed UK sporting hero Anthony Joshua into the ring with a thunderous ovation. And Joshua didn’t disappoint. After six relatively even rounds, he found his range in the seventh and became the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin. A three punch combo that began with an overhand right sent Povetkin sprawling into the ropes. The Russian beat the count, but Joshua smelled blood and as soon as the ref allowed the proceedings to continue he moved in for the kill. The official time was 1:59.

Povetkin started fast and in the eyes of many observers won the first three rounds. A sharp right hand in the waning seconds of round one reddened Joshua’s nose which leaked blood in the next round. The tide began to turn in round four when Povetkin suffered a cut above his left eye.

Povetkin (now 34-2), was the lighter man by 23 pounds. Joshua had a four inch height advantage and a seven inch reach advantage. And it mattered greatly that AJ was the younger man by 10-plus years. Povetkin wasn’t intimidated by Joshua and had several good moments but, at age 39, his reflexes betrayed him once the fight had crossed the midpoint.

Joshua, who owns three of the four meaningful heavyweight title belts, improved to 22-0 with his 21st stoppage. His next fight is penciled in for April 13 of next year against an opponent to be determined. His promoter Eddie Hearn has reserved that date at Wembley Stadium.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round lightweight bout, Joshua’s Olympic Games teammate and fellow gold medalist Luke Campbell (19-2) avenged the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-111,116-112) over France’s Yvan Mendy (40-5-1). This was Campbell’s second start since coming up short in a bid for Jorge Linares’s lightweight title and his first fight under his new trainer Shane McGuigan.

In their first meeting in December of 2015 at London’s O2 Arena, Mendy won a split decision that should have been unanimous. Campbell insisted that he had improved greatly in the interim and tonight’s fight bore witness. However, he needs to develop a harder punch to rank among the top lightweights in the world, a list headed by Mikey Garcia. As this fight was framed as a WBC title eliminator, Campbell is next in line to meet Garcia, but Mikey has indicated that he will pursue bigger game.

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Anthony Joshua, won a Lonsdale belt in only his 10th pro start with a 12-round decision over defending BBBofC cruiserweight champion Matty Askin in a messy fight. The undefeated Okolie had a point deducted in round five for leading with his head and had two more points deducted for holding, but banked enough rounds to get the nod on all three cards: 116-110, 114-112, and 114-113. Askin, who declined to 23-4-1, had won five straight heading in.

A 10-round heavyweight match between Sergey Kuzmin (13-0, 1 NC) and David Price (22-6) ended suddenly when Price retired on his stool after four relatively even rounds. The six-foot-eight, china-chinned Price claimed to have aggravated a biceps tear.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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