Home Illinois Chicago-born Golden Gloves turns 100, continues to shape and inspire boxers –...

Chicago-born Golden Gloves turns 100, continues to shape and inspire boxers – Chicago Tribune


Have you ever watched two men or two women fight each other in a boxing ring?

I mean up close and personal, where you can smell the sweat and hear the grunts and cheers and maybe even feel the pride and pain? Boxing can be brutal and bloody. It can also be beautiful.

But it probably hasn’t been on your radar for a long time. Can you name the current heavyweight champion? Know the names of any of the others who populate the pro sports provinces?

The real thing hasn’t been a phenomenon in this town for a long time. Boxing remains a large part of the landscape, even if its reputation has been tarnished over the past few decades, and its popularity has recently been challenged by the more vibrant offerings of mixed martial arts and professional wrestling.

The city is currently in the midst of its latest release Chicago Golden Gloves tournament.. It started earlier this week and will continue through the preliminary fights until the championship, which will take place in mid-April. It will include 470 male and female boxers who will compete in three-round fights at the Cicera Stadium.

Our city is one of 30 national Golden Gloves outposts, most of which host similar tournaments. The winners of these will be presented at the national championships held over three days in May at Harrah’s Casino in Chester, Pennsylvania.

It’s the 100th anniversary of this venerable event in Chicago, and this story is designed not only to celebrate that anniversary, but also to celebrate the longest running and largest non-national amateur boxing competition in America.

Young fans in front of the three rings of the Chicago Stadium at the tournament

Although this newspaper played an important role in the formation of the organization and was a long-time sponsor of its annual competitions, it was hardly one of the first advocates of the sport.

In a front-page story in October 1867, the Tribune covered a 44-round fight between a pair of guys named Davis and Gallagher and described it as, “One beast beats another for a gang of other beasts.” He also called for a state law to make bounty fighting a crime, writing, “Anything is preferable to the barbarism that is growing among us.”

But it has grown, even in spite of laws passed to curtail and erase it. Fighting (and betting) has long been a part of Chicago subculture, often taking place in the basements and sidelines of taverns. But over time, the city was dotted with private gyms where you could learn sports and see what was happening. The Catholic Church, through its Catholic Youth Organization, has become a major mentor and sponsor of the sport, along with the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic High School League and other schools, as well as the Chicago Park District. They would all educate and promote boxing.

In 1923, the Tribune, having long shed its distaste for the sport, organized an amateur boxing tournament that became the basis of what soon became officially known as the Golden Gloves. The Tribune called the event “a great boxing carnival … the largest amateur boxing tournament ever held in Chicago,” with some 424 young men fighting over three days in March at the Ashland Boulevard gym. It was the brainchild of the newspaper sports editor Arch Warda visionary who also created Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game in 1933.

On March 25, 1923, the Chicago Daily Tribune reported the first ever amateur boxing tournament in Chicago, known as the Golden Gloves.

The tag “Golden Gloves” was first attached to fights that took place on March 24, 1928. At the Coliseum, eight boxers from Chicago fought eight boxers from New York to a score of 8-8. Growth was rapid as Golden Gloves organizations were established in cities across the country and around the world.

Boxing has long been, especially for young immigrants, a stepping stone to the American dream. Many immigrant groups, most notably Jews, Irish, Italians, blacks, and Latinos, were marginalized in life and work, often ignored by the same men who willingly paid clients for boxing matches. Every immigrant neighborhood had its own “champion,” and boxing became a banner of racial or ethnic pride.

Art Burmeister, 135-pound contender, climbs the scales during final exams for the Chicago Sectional Tournament Trials

But the goal of the Golden Gloves has always been goals beyond potential fame and fortune. It was founded to “provide opportunities that build character, self-esteem and lasting leadership skills” and is still doing that work.

I was once talking about boxing with a tough and sweet man, the late one Martin McGarry, a native of County Mayo in Ireland. He came here in the mid-1960s and became a Golden Gloves champion, pipe fitter and founded McGarry’s Boxing Club from his home in the Beverly area.

McGarry has taught hundreds. One of the teenagers he trained also became a Golden Gloves champion and later earned the title of “Lord of the Dance.” He is called Michael Flatley, and is known for creating Irish dance shows such as Riverdance and Lord of the Dance. He said he will return to Chicago in mid-April for a special Golden Gloves ceremony honoring former competitors who have achieved success outside the ring.

Chicago team

McGarry died in 2018, but once told me, “Boxing was in my blood. It gives people confidence and improves their outlook on life. And it also helps them to work well, to fulfill their duties. And it teaches them respect for other people, which is very important. This is the foundation of good character.”

I boxed for a while in an old gym near Navy Pier. It was called the Fire Department Gym because it was run by firefighters and then Fire Commissioner Robert Quinn used it to keep his men in shape. But really it was for everyone: playing basketball, volleyball, working out and boxing, which I enjoyed for a while in my 20s until I got beaten up by a skinny teenager which ended my “career” in the ring .

But I became a big fan of sports and those who taught and fought. In addition to sitting ringside in New Orleans during Muhammad Ali’s 15-round decision in his 1978 rematch with Leon Spinks, I’ve seen dozens of Golden Gloves fights, most of which took place at the St. Andrews on West Addison Street, where I watched male and, since 1994, female boxers of varying abilities but the same desire dance and swing, swing, miss and punch.

With his eyes closed, Tony Madigan (left) lands a left hook that pops to the back of the head of Chicago's Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) in their 175-pound intercity Golden Gloves bout at Chicago Stadium on March 25, 1959. Clay, just 17, won a narrow decision to puncture 29-year-old Madigan's bladder.

The contestants were very colorful: from tough teenagers showing their courage to stockbrokers taking their exercises to an illogical extreme; the official age for the Golden Gloves is 18 to 40. Many of the young fighters dreamed of Olympic glory or pay-per-view millions, perhaps seeing in the footsteps of Golden Gloves alumni like Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Leonard or Ali (when he was known as Cassius Clay).

These fantasies are fragile and quickly end with an angry barrage of an opponent. But in St. Andrews I saw as I wrote in 2000, “Fire in the eyes of the fighters, blood on the chins of some; dreams are simultaneously shattered and nurtured by the lightning of a left hook that sends one boxer to the canvas and the other into the air, as if lifted by the roar of an appreciative audience.”

“The Golden Gloves are a great thing,” says Larry Roske, director of the Chicago Golden Gloves. He is a painter for the city of Chicago. He is 62 years old and has never boxed, nor have his seven sons. He was introduced to Golden Gloves nearly 20 years ago by a friend who volunteered with the organization and now works, as he says, as a “self-employed volunteer of all things Golden Gloves.”

He attends every fight, organizes fights in a dozen weight classes, seeks sponsors, writes programs, does public relations, hangs banners, takes care of ticket applications and T-shirt sales… and so on. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of troubled kids grow up to be decent people.”

He and other organizers, volunteers, boxers and fans will tell you that Golden Gloves, which offers year-round instruction and mentoring, helps keep kids off the streets and away from gangs, and teaches discipline and self-respect.

In the crowd you can see friends and families, worried mothers and proud fathers. Some families have attended (and participated in) the Golden Gloves for generations. The crowds are not the bejeweled and star-studded gatherings often seen at major professional fights. They are the people next door, and the Golden Gloves are boxing at its most innocent level, where sportsmanship rears its magnificent head.

Candidly shows fans excitedly watching the fast-paced action in May 1938 during the international bouts for

Perhaps the success of the Creed film franchise is encouraging for boxing. So could a recent Harris Poll survey of more than 2,000 adults in 2021. It found that boxing was the fourth most popular sport in the country, with 33% saying they were fans, behind football (62%), baseball and basketball (both 49%). He also ranked boxing above MMA (30%). Ten years ago, boxing was not in the top 10 in the Harris poll.

Reasons? It is difficult to explain why an estimated 300 million people in 1971 watched the fight between Ali and Joe Frazier on closed-circuit television. Or why Cicero Stadium will be packed with fans, families and fighters for so many nights in the coming weeks. Yes, the point of boxing is to hit the opponent or knock him to the canvas. But perhaps it is something rarer, as the novelist Joyce Carol Oates, who often attended Golden Gloves matches with her father, wrote in her book “On Boxing”: . or the desire for the mysterious consolation of those who can participate in such a drama only separately: in the drama of life in the flesh.’


BOXING ON THE BIG SCREEN: Many films have been made about boxing. Tribune critic Michael Phillips bet you’ve never seen a movie made entirely in Chicago called The Golden Glove Story.


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