Boxing Lessons


In the 1920's, Eagle Elementary School served a dual purpose for the young denizens of the Ginney Block. First, it was the place where we toiled during the day, learning the Three R's as the formal education learning process was known in those days. Second, it served as our Social Center. At night, during the winter months, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. the Cleveland Board of Education provided and opened its gyms to the boys and girls of the neighborhood. In the summer time, the school Board ran a playground in its outdoor areas.

I recall one winter when the athletic program brought to the boy's gym an added attraction. Up until that winter, the program had limited itself to basketball and wrestling. This particular winter the recreation supervisor outdid himself. He brought in an ex-boxer and retired light-heavy weight fighter to teach those of us who were so inclined, to learn the manly art of self defense.

Although, at age twelve, I was slight and small in build, I felt the urge to learn how to box. As would be expected of the youngsters of our time, I had also developed an overwhelming hero worship for Jack Dempsey. When I registered for the class, I learned that the classes were to be held every Tuesday night, and that I must not miss any of them if I was to get the full benefit of the professional fighter's instructions. I was also told that I must be sure to bring my gym shoes and my gym pants.




Photo From left to right: brothers Sol, Art, and the author circa 1922.


Brother Art and older brother Sol sparring in the yard at West End of the Ginney Block-circa 1922.




The recreation supervisor also warned us that the instructor expected everyone to wash his gym shoes and pants after each boxing class so that they would be fresh and clean for the next week's session. That was no problem for me because my mother did that after every gym class anyway. So I was sure that one more washing would not bother her.

Things went swimmingly for me. Being small and wiry, I was quick on my feet. I exhibited good foot work. My biggest problem was the fact that my hands were small and I had trouble keeping the boxing gloves on. As my hands perspired inside the gloves, they would slip off even though they had been tied as securely as possible. The instructor finally solved this problem for me by taping them on me in addition to tying them tightly.

Being an apt pupil, I learned to weave and dance around the ring just as the professional did and learned to jab and uppercut as he did, much to his delight. Through all the sessions that season, I had somehow miraculously escaped being hurt by any of the punches that had been thrown at me by my adversaries. This was true until the final night of the course. On that Tuesday night, I had my "come-uppance." On that night I was matched with a Syrian boy from Bolivar Road. He was about my size, however, about five pounds heavier, stocky and with a longer reach than I had. As children, we were only allowed to box three rounds. I got through the first two rounds suffering only a few glancing blows to my arms and shoulders. Then out of the blue, I felt the glove on my opponent's right hand sink into my midriff.




The lights went out for me then and there. When I came to, I saw my older brother Nick was holding me as the ex-fighter was sponging my face with cold water. Feeling awfully sick and weak, I got to my feet apologizing for losing the fight, for I really and truly thought that the other boy had scored a knockout. Much to my surprise, I was told that I had won because the boy had fouled me by hitting me below the belt. While this made me feel somewhat better, I vowed then and there that the fight game was not for me, and said so, as my worried brother helped me wobble home.