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Keeping Score

Keeping Score: Shades of gold

Good morning!

During a break between bouts at the Golden Gloves regionals in Holyoke two weeks ago, time keeper Kevin Hope leaned toward PA announcer Mike Burke and quipped, “So ... I hear they want to put a marijuana dispensary on the corner of Appleton Street.”

Burke sat back, looked at Hope and replied, “They already have one, on lots of street corners.”

Such humor’s the norm at the Gloves, an unholy alliance of cops and robbers. Law enforcement types like ring announcer Dean Fay, referee Bob Benoit and Hope work together with boxers from the mean streets of Springfield, Hartford and Worcester to promote the sport and raise money for the South End Community Center and the Old Soldiers’ Home.

Many are trained by cops in gyms with boxing teams named Camp Get Right, Sweet Science, Rude Dog Boxing and the Tasmania Boxing Club.

Twenty-three-old John Johnson fights for the Mason Square Boxing Team on the second floor of the Dunbar Community Center in Springfield. His coach is a Springfield patrolman named Rupert Daniel.

Johnson works at the “99” Restaurant in Springfield and got in the ring when Dunbar revived its boxing program last summer. He’d won his first three bouts to make the 141-pound novice division finals and was having his hands taped by his friend Jayson Lind.

Both his arms are covered by tattoos, including a heart inked onto his right shoulder with an old fashioned key drawn through the center next to the name “Lisa.”

“Is that your girlfriend?”

“My mother,” he answered. “She has the key to my heart.” Alongside his mother’s name were the names of his five siblings: Leandre, Janaya, Raymond, Jalaisa and Leaisia.

Johnson would be fighting Henry Hewig and the winner would advance to the New England Golden Gloves at the Lowell Auditorium. “I told her I’d win... for her. She’s not here, she lives in Atlanta but she’ll be waiting for my call.”

Across the room a 6-foot-4, 230-pound heavyweight named Aurimas Juodka was shadow boxing for his coach Clell Thomas. Juodka aspires to work for his native Lithuania at NATO or the European Union after he leaves the Coast Guard Academy.

“What was your coach telling you?” I asked.

“Jab, keep a distance, and...”

He paused for a moment trying to remember what his coach had told him.

“We just worked on it 30 seconds ago, you’d better have an answer,” said Thomas, a no-nonsense sort in his late-30s with short black hair and a nose broken so many times it looks like an Olympic mogul course.

“And use the big overhand right,” Joudka finally blurted.

During the first Golden Gloves I covered a drop of blood landed on my notebook. That was 40 years ago and not much had changed during the ensuing years except it was moved from the inner city to the Log Cabin near the top of Mount Tom. Normally a place for wedding receptions and scenic gazing, it had become a veritable Madison Square Garden with a boxing ring and two bars in one banquet hall and a locker room in the other.

Amped on adrenaline the combatants climbed into a 23-by-23 foot ring wearing ten ounce gloves and fought over the din of crowd noise that bordered on bedlam. Girlfriends bit their nails and cornermen barked instructions.

“Go to the body!”

“Palcante! Palcante!”

“Shovel Punch! Up! Up! Ah! Again! Again!”

Gancho Izquieda!”

Behind me a woman screamed and shouted while holding a Smart Phone over her head to video the fight.

Burke had assigned me the ringside seat next to Hope who’d arrived carrying a wooden box. He put the box on the table, removed a cast iron bell, laid out two stopwatches, a whistle and a hammer to ring the bell. The sound reverberated off the walls and between my ears. Toward the end of each round he pounded the table with the hammer to warn fighters to get their last shots in, and whistled cornermen out of the ring before the start of each round. Those who dawdled risked Benoit’s wrath. “Seconds, out of the ring. That means you. Get out!”

Hope was quick-witted, friendly and informative, but later I figured I’d heard the whistle, bell and hammer about 125 times, enough to have me groping for Advil in the glove compartment on the ride home.

I’d seen Aurimas Juodka be slow and tentative during his fight against Christopher Jenkins of the Elephant in the Room Boxing Team. The crowd hooted him and Thomas wasn’t much kinder. Between rounds he stared into Juodka’s face and uttered a stream of expletives. “I will throw in the towel!” he threatened.

Juodka failed to deliver the knockout punch and lost by a unanimous decision.

The outcome was better for John Johnson. I asked him what he was thinking as he made the long walk through the crowd toward the ring.

“I was like, Dang, what’s it gonna be? Like, what am I gonna do? But once I got in there I got my focus back.”

Wearing black shorts with gold trim, Johnson’s jab and foot speed compensated for Hewig’s height and reach advantage. In the second round Benoit stopped the fight and told the judges to deduct a point from Hewig’s scorecard for clutching and holding.

“You can’t wrap up like that,” said Benoit. “Plus he was a fresh little prick too.”

Johnson won by a unanimous decision. “He had reach and he had height but I gave him some fear,” said Johnson. “I loosened him up, got some open shots on him. I told you I was going to Lowell.”

Promise made, promise delivered, straight to his mother’s heart.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.

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