Sutter helped keep Michigan Golden Gloves afloat
by David Mayo | The Grand Rapids Press
Wednesday May 07, 2008, 3:00 AM
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Randy Sutter's love for Golden Gloves translated into interest-free loans that helped keep
the program running in the 1990s. Now, Sutter, a cattle farmer, trains Michigan team
members. GRAND RAPIDS -- Before there was Floyd Mayweather, there was Randy Sutter.
Both started in amateur boxing's lightest weight division, though both grew larger than life to
Michigan Golden Gloves, because when the program needed them most, both gave back.
One, you may have heard about -- Mayweather's generous $140,000 donation to pay all
expenses for this week's National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions at DeVos
Place. The other, not a word. You wouldn't know Michigan Golden Gloves ever hit rock
bottom by the looks of things today, with the 81st national tournament gracing downtown for
the first time, and the generosity of boxing's pound-for-pound king bolstering the program.
But it happened, barely more than a decade ago, and the decisions the local program faced
were stark: Can we keep open the only Grand Rapids gym we fund? Which bills can we get
away with not paying this month? Is there any other way out of this? "Back when we first
started with the association, we were on a shoestring," said Dave Packer, executive director
of the non-profit Michigan Golden Gloves Association, formed 20 years ago. "We would get
to the point where we just ran out of money in January, or February, or whatever." But the
annual West Michigan and Michigan tournaments, and the opportunity to replenish the
coffers, aren't until April. Enter Sutter, a 57-year-old Coopersville cattle farmer. For three
years in the early 1990s, after Michigan Golden Gloves lost its sole underwriting sponsor
and was forced to leave downtown, Packer quietly would approach Sutter -- who trains
boxers at the organization's gym on Leonard Street -- about the mid-winter shortfall. If you
can just get us by for a few months. That's how the conversation started, and invariably how
it ended, with Sutter breaking out the checkbook before his good friend could finish the
uncomfortable plea. He won't say how much he loaned. It was more than $5,000 each year,
one source said, which Sutter confirmed. Without once saying anything about it publicly,
until asked directly Tuesday, Sutter's interest-free loans kept Michigan Golden Gloves
afloat. "Yes, I did bail the Golden Gloves out," Sutter said. "And when the Gloves started,
and the attendance started coming in, and some money started coming in, Dave paid me
back before any other expenses were paid. I'd trust Dave with anything. He's a good guy."
Sutter is a Golden Gloves guy who likes amateur boxing, as opposed to an amateur boxing
guy who likes Golden Gloves. That's a big distinction in a small community. His real role is
trainer, which he has filled for 27 years, including 10 consecutively as Michigan's team
manager to National Golden Gloves. The latter assignment became permanent after Sutter
led all Michigan Golden Gloves trainers in state champions for seven consecutive years.
Sutter will work few corners during this tournament, with most of the boxers' personal
trainers traveling short distances to participate in these home-state nationals. But there are
coaches' meetings, and boxers' meetings, and weigh-ins, and per-diem payments, and
arena arrivals to manage -- and doing it here, with local boxers staying at their homes,
presents its own challenges. "When they're at the motel, I just knock on the door and make
sure they're in their rooms at night," Sutter said. "Right now, I don't know where these kids
are at night, or what they're up to, if they're with their girlfriends, or out partying. Actually,
this is more difficult here to keep control of them, to keep your thumb on them." When the
nationals are on the road, Debbie Sutter, who drives a bus for Kent Intermediate School
District, takes a week's vacation. She spends it tending the 200-acre family farm, plus 400
leased acres. "If it were not for my wife, I could not go to the nationals every year," Randy
Sutter said. "She feeds the cattle -- we've got over 200 head of cattle -- and takes care of
anything that comes up on the farm. She can handle it. If there's a problem, she calls me,
we talk it out on the phone, it's settled. My wife is the wife of wives.This year, her husband
is the coach of coaches. Sutter was honored this week with the national coach-of-the-year
award and induction into the Golden Gloves Hall of Fame. He received the awards at
Sunday's kickoff banquet. "It knocked the wind out of me," he said. "Never, ever expected it,
not in my wildest dreams. You dream of something like this. In my opinion, that award is the
greatest honor for an amateur boxing coach. Coach of the Year and Hall of Fame for the
nationals? For me, it doesn't get any better." When he graduated from Grandville High
School in 1969, Sutter stood less than 5 feet tall and weighed 95 pounds. He couldn't even
enter Golden Gloves because he was too light for flyweights. He ultimately became a giant
in the program. "I'm just a cattle farmer out there trying to make a living, and sometimes it's
tough," he said. "But I love the Golden Gloves program. Simply love it. It's an opportunity for
every individual. If you weigh 100 pounds, we have a place for you. I didn't box much, I'll be
the first to admit that. But I love the Golden Gloves."