Is it possible to revitalize boxing to its former prominence? It’s clear that the allure of the NFL and NBA is drawing away would-be heavyweights and middleweights. Nevertheless, for all weight divisions, Minnesota boxing history could have a combination that may help.
Back in the day Minneapolis public schools had compulsory boxing. Don Dye, this writer’s father-in-law, graduated from Franklin Junior High and North High in the 1940s. Both had portable rings, and he was required to box.
Dye also boxed at the Church of the Ascension in North Minneapolis, which had a permanent ring. Protestant, Dye said the Irish priest at Ascension was schooled in boxing and had the ring there for use by the young men of all faith traditions.
While Minneapolis had compulsory boxing, St. Paul had its own boxing style. Jim called this style the “School of No Get Hit,” to set up the counter, in the manner of Mike Gibbons.
Emphasis on the St. Paul style could provide long-term benefits to boxing and its participants. After all, as Jim’s life attests, the sport is so much more than mere fighting or punching.
A combination of some level of boxing in the schools and the St. Paul style could help revitalize boxing.
In 2012 in New Hampshire, the Franklin and Hill School District had a website about its co-ed boxing team, www.franklin.k12.nh.us/fhs_athl_boxing.cfm. The website explained:
Boxing is a great opportunity for developing physical and mental well-being. Students will work to develop strength, cardiovascular fitness, timing, and coordination.
Training offers a release from the daily stresses of academic work as well as something to look forward to at the end of the day.
Students have an opportunity to learn from someone with nineteen years of in-ring experience, without the high cost usually associated with this type of training.
[The coach] tries very hard to instill the appropriate virtues into his students. Honesty, sportsmanship, punctuality, courtesy, leadership and self-discipline are all promoted within the program. Students who violate these virtues face consequences from short-term suspension to removal from the program.
If Jim were around today, he’d support any opportunity for boxing and its accompanying discipline to be re-introduced in the schools. He thought boxing had become an unwanted orphan while certain other sports are showered with attention and subsidies.
He’d also remind us to make sure that kids can feel safe at the local gyms after school. Make sure the boundaries are clear and enforced so that the cares and problems of the outside world are not allowed in or are at least checked at the door.
Jim would extend his congratulations and best wishes to women’s boxing, which took a giant step with its 2012 Olympic debut. He’d salute middleweight Claressa Shields, who brought home Gold, and flyweight Marlen Esparza Bronze, for team U.S.A.
Jim would say job well done to Clay Moyle, author of Billy Miske: The St. Paul Thunderbolt (Win By KO Publications 2011). Jim would get the biggest kick out of reading that book. He’d particularly appreciate all the research that went into it.
Jim would take his hat off to Paul Levy, author of The Fighting Frenchman: Minnesota's Boxing Legend Scott LeDoux (University of Minnesota Press 2016). Jim was one of LeDoux's good friends. The book flat-out captures the heart and mind of LeDoux. One of the world's toughtest men physically, LeDoux also was as sweet as they come.
You feel the action as Levy chronicles LeDoux's fights. LeDoux was witty and always thinking, but he didn't think twice about agreeing to walk up those three steps and mix fists with anyone.
LeDoux's bravery and faith gave him the strength to face more than his share of life and death. Through Levy's work LeDoux continues to show us how to live, taking risk and forgiving the unforgivable, and how to die.
In all Jim would agree that Levy has created a fittingly great work, well researched and presented, about a wonderful human being and an important part of boxing history.
Remembering the past is part of the work of the Minnesota Boxing Hall of Fame. Jim would be so grateful for being inducted as part of the class of 2014. He'd be especially appreciative to the Hall's dedicated and knowledgeable founders, directors, and officers. With its website at www.mnbhof.org and other activities, the Hall is enriching the lives of countless boxing fans not just in Minnesota but throughout the world.
Jim might encourage all of us who are into Minnesota boxing history to come together and think big. Consider a Minnesota Boxing Center. The city of Eveleth is proud to have the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Museum. Is there a place, yet to be discovered, where Minnesota’s rich boxing tradition – past, present, and future – can be exhibited to celebrate and inspire?
Finally, a special thanks to Jim Wells, Charley Walters, and Dan Wall for their Forewords and to all who contributed to Jim's story as told here.
Many thanks to all who put pen to paper to share stories, especially those listed in the Bibliography pages. Thank you!
Copyright 2012-2016 by Steven T. O’Hara. All rights reserved.