GRAND RAPIDS -- As the National Golden Gloves left town, it harkened back to an
old joke among amateur trainers that "Some of my guys go to Penn State, and some
go to the state pen." And so it is true, with Tor Hamer, the super heavyweight
national champion crowned in the week's 255th and final bout Saturday night, a
proud graduate of Penn State. The people who learned the most about amateur
boxers last week were those who touched the event, and found out the polarized
expectations of them may be just the slightest bit overblown. One champion is a
Cuban defector living in Maine. Another sings Irish folk songs in the shower, and
admits it. Another is the entire Haitian Olympic boxing team. But not all the
champions won Saturday. Jacob Perry, of Elkins, Ark., lost in Monday's first round.
The middleweight and biology major at the University of Central Arkansas carries a
20-hour course load, is a Big Brother, and plans to spend his summer working with
underprivileged in Costa Rica. Jose Saenz, of Independence, Mo., lost in
Thursday's featherweight quarterfinals. He is executive officer of his high school
ROTC battalion and is taking college classes while completing his senior year in an
advanced-studies program. He works 24 hours a week at a convenience store and
trains five days a week. It is boxing. But it is amateur boxing -- average age of
Saturday's finalists was 20 -- run by volunteers, involving young men, not promoters
and sanctioning bodies dealing with people who choose the risks of fighting for pay.
The downtown hotels were filled, the tournament went off with few hitches, then the
circus left town. It probably did not leave many people with a different opinion of
amateur boxing, but 239 out of 255 fights went the distance, DeVos Place was a
decent if somewhat antiseptic venue, and a few people returned to Golden Gloves
for the first time since the Michigan tournament left downtown 20 years ago. To
those people, try going to Golden Gloves at Grand Valley Armory sometime, where
the ambiance is far better, the intimacy of the setting and proximity of the fans is
ideal, and crowd sizes are nearly as substantial as last week. Final figures were not
available over the weekend, but the tournament probably drew something around
7,000 to 8,000 fans, more than three-fourths of them paid, left the Michigan
franchise in better shape than before the tournament thanks to Floyd Mayweather's
generosity in funding the event, and brought a difference sporting experience here.
One Saginaw boxer and another from Detroit won national championships, the
northeast dominated with six of 11 championships split between three franchises,
and the Michigan team finished fourth in team points after two tough semifinal losses
for local boxers. New England won the team championship based on the results of
the aforementioned Cuban defector and self-professed
rish-folk-song-shower-singer. The team race came down to New England and
Florida, and three head-to-head finals between those franchises. When flyweight
Jorge Abiague and light welterweight Daniel O'Connor won the first two of those,
they closed out the team race. Florida, behind Haitian Olympic light heavyweight
Azea Augustama, won the other. Ernesto Garza, the Saginaw bantamweight who
scored three of the tournament's 16 stoppages himself, might have received the
Golden Boy Award, for outstanding boxer, though it instead went to deserving New
Yorker Steven Martinez, whose welterweight win against Pennsylvania's Sammy
Vasquez prompted a standing ovation. The tournament drew celebrities from
Emanuel Steward and former lightweight champion Sean O'Grady, to former local
heavyweight Buster Mathis Jr., to the first National Golden Gloves champions from
Grand Rapids (John Butler, 1953) and Muskegon (Oscar German, 1961). A few
young men got jump-started on pursuits of the 2012 Olympics or professional
boxing, but far more will go on to careers completely unrelated to sports. National
Golden Gloves reminds us all anyone can do is point the right way, give individuals
their best chance, and hope they make the right decisions to become champions in
any endeavor.
Golden Gloves offers reminder of what's possible
by David Mayo | The Grand Rapids Press
Monday May 12, 2008, 9:15 AM
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