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?
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!
Finally, as mentioned above in Round 9 entitled Husband & Father, Jim's daughter Lynn passed away in 2017. Below is the eulogy this writer gave at her funeral:
I'm Steve O'Hara, one of Lynn's three brothers. Growing up we had nicknames. Lynn's was Lynnie-skin-skinny or Lynnie for short.
You know Lynn acquired wisdom over her lifetime. To put a handle on her insight, here are three quick examples. Think of them as Lynnie-skin-skinny Rules.
Rule Number 1: Take risk.
Lynn always said one of the best decisions she and Bob made was buying their cabin in Wisconsin. She loved their cabin and all the family memories. When they purchased the cabin, it was not an easy decision. Money was tight but Lynn and Bob took the risk for all the right reasons.
For Lynn the flip side of taking risk is the need to fight fear with everything you got. She knew the fear of losing what you have. On her death-bed Lynn said to me: "God strips you."
But Lynn learned to fight fear:
· By faith in God’s eternal love.
· By working at staying calm.
· By positive thinking.
· And by simple acts of kindness.
Some of Lynn's best days throughout adulthood were:
· Delivering meals to shut ins.
· Volunteering as a greeter at the airport.
· Visiting with the sick and dying at the VA hospital.
· And rescuing abused cats.
Her great sense of humor was rarely - if ever - at someone else’s expense.
You know Lynn’s mom - Kitty O'Hara - is grateful for all the times Lynn took off work to make sure mom and dad rode in style back and forth to the U of M where dad received chemotherapy.
Lynn's simple acts of kindness took courage and made the world a better place.
Lynnie-skin-skinny Rule Number 2: Take time to smell the roses.
Lynn and mom traveled together. They made trips to California and Ireland and Mexico. The winter after dad died mom spent a month in Florida. And Lynn was sure to visit.
Of course Lynn and Bob saw to it that the family made time to be together at their cabin. Lynn and Bob enjoyed at least one anniversary in Maui. They loved to go to Arizona and Colorado. The family also traveled to Mexico and many, many times to Alaska.
One summer morning Lynn woke up on the beach in Homer, Alaska. Homer is located in an inlet of the Pacific Ocean and mountains are everywhere. Homer was one of Lynn's favorite destinations. This particular morning it was beautiful but Lynn did not feel well.
So she gets out of her sleeping bag. And she crawls out of her tent. And she stands up and without consulting anyone she marches over to the super-expensive hotel on the beach and gets their only remaining room. Bob and the girls help her move in. And in no time Lynn is propped up in a king-size bed with her laptop out. She then says: "Now keep the noise down. I'm going to do some work to pay for this room."
You know Lynn also liked to smell the roses by taking regular walks in the neighborhood.
Lynnie-skin-skinny Rule Number 3: Your body will die but your spirit - your true self - will live on.
By faith we believe in life everlasting.
When Lynn was 16, Lynn's dear friend Jolie of the same age was the victim of a homicide. Lynn told me many times over the years that she could feel Jolie was with her.
15 years ago to this very day Lynn lost her dad to cancer. Again Lynn told me many times she could feel dad's presence.
Lynn will always be in a special way with her devoted husband Bob. Lynn will always be in a special way with her wonderful children Kelly and Sheila. Lynn will always be in a special way with her mother Kitty.
You know when Jolie died Lynn had many friends to help her stay calm and carry on. Lynn will always be with each of them in a special way.
One of my dear friends is a Catholic priest. He lost one of his siblings - a sister - one he particularly depended upon. Soon she came to him in a dream. She told him she is helping him in more ways than were ever possible before her death.
We join Lynn in asking God to take all souls to Heaven. We take comfort that Lynn has reached Heaven. Amen.
Copyright 2012-2019 by Steven T. O’Hara. All rights reserved.