Cradle of Champions: 80 Years of NY Daily News Golden Gloves

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Super Investing

Bill Farrell, my long time friend and famed Daily News veteran columnist of over 30 years wrote a seminal, if not definitive, book, Cradle of Champions:80 Years of NY Daily News Golden Gloves, published by Sports Publishing. It chronicles the Holy Grail in amateur boxing, to wit, the Golden Gloves, which celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2007. The Golden Gloves is a non-profit organization run by the NY Daily News and it is and always has been run strictly as a charity. It is the largest and oldest coed amateur boxing tournament in the world. Farrell is an astute sports writer who covered the Golden Gloves since 1987. Coupled with his journalistic punch lines are some iconic photos by New York City prize-winning photographers, Fred Morgan and Charles Hoff. In our Golden Gloves career from 1955 to 1964 we had the encouragement throughout from the Daily News Sports Department’s Bill Gallo and Peter Coutros and the longtime Golden Gloves columnist, Jack Smith, who referred to us as the “multi-traveled and multi-titled Golden Glove champions.”

In 1955, my identical twin, Nikos, and I were 16 years old, from Spartan heritage representing the (PAL) Police Athletic League. (The PAL is celebrating its 93rd anniversary with an annual budget of 28 million dollars for 70,000 children in its NYC youth development. From the monies donated to the PAL only 8% is devoted to administrative and fund raising and the unheard of 92% go to the program unlike the reverse of some 501(c)3 major non-profits.) We won the 1955 Golden Gloves Sub-Novice in the storied Mecca of boxing, Madison Square (scare) Garden (MSG). We enjoyed Morgan and Hoff’s company when they came the first time to our Brooklyn Red Hook home to do a feature shoot on us. Also the second time in our beloved elite Brooklyn Fort Hamilton High School. The third time in our many fights in MSG when we singularly or collectively won the Golden Gloves in 1955, 1956, 1960, 1961 and 1964. We had an unusually loooooong Golden Gloves resume. In our Golden Gloves career, Nikos won 7 titles and I was unprecedented as the undefeated 10-time champion from 1955-1964, including Golden Gloves from New York City to California coupled with either of us competing in the international boxing scene in the 1959 Pan-American Games and the 1960 Rome Olympic Games.

The fascinating forward written by our friend the uber-boxing historian, Bert Randolph Sugar, sets the golden tone for the book as he limns it as “an enduring institution of the sport’s landscape.” Many boxing pundits like to go to the Golden Gloves to predict Olympic and professional World Boxing Champions almost like going to the boxing Oracle of Delphi. The Golden Gloves were initiated by the national columnist, Paul Gallico in 1927. In those early days, many thousands of boxers from one hundred cities participated in the tourneys. By the 1950s, boxers from over fifty cities participated. The National Championship (also called the Inter-City) was Chicago vs. New York had the Western Champion (crowned in Soldiers Field) and the Eastern Champs from the old MSG at 50th and 8th Avenue. Alternating between the sacred venues of the two cities each year, boxers slugged it out to be the national champion. Years ago, there was also an ‘International” Championship.

Farrell’s classic book is more bible than book like a Who’s Who of amateur boxing. The greatest Golden Gloves champion was our own Sugar Ray Robinson, real name Walter Smith, who won the titles in 1939 and 1930. This boxer was followed by another great (greatest?), Cassius Clay, now Muhammad Ali, who won the Golden Gloves in 1959. Cassius Clay also won with Nikos and me the 1960 Western Golden Gloves in Chicago and the 1960 Nationals in MSG. We were all trained by the Western Golden Gloves coach, erstwhile world middleweight champion, Tony Zale. Cassius represented Louisville, KY, along with his teammate, Jimmy Ellis, another future world champion. Ellis and Nikos were co-captains of the Western team. Nikos, my Spartan doppelganger and I represented the coveted Albertson College of Idaho (Caldwell, ID), on boxing scholarships earned by our Golden Gloves championships. Later on in 1964, to fulfill my mythic muse of boxing I continued boxing while I was a senior in New York Law School. I was still undefeated. Both Chuck Wepner and I won the 1964 Golden Gloves in MSG. Chuck Wepner became the real inspirational story of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky movies because of his heroics with boxing’s bete noir, Sonny Liston and Muhammed Ali. We couldn’t fight in the Golden Gloves in 1957, 1958, and 1959 because of NCAA boxing scholarship rules denying us even more titles.

Bill Farrell ignites this page-turner book with his starting chapter, “Paul Gallico (1927-1934) and then “Out of the Depression (1935-1946), “Post War Years (1947-1956),” and all the way through to the Era Change (1987-1999 ) and “Into the New Millennium” (2000-present). The Daily News which most people do not know, at its peak, had the largest circulation of any newspaper in the world, with over 2 million newspapers per day and many more for the Sunday edition.

Farrell, gracious as always, credits his fellow Daily News collaborators highly rated VP and in-promotions John Campi, the loyal Mario Caliguire, the patient Angie Troisi, the perceptive Peter Karsten, and of course, Bill’s wife, Marguerite, for their invaluable contributions. The Daily News donates all their monies from the Golden Gloves, just like they did with their past popular Silver Skates and Harvest Moon Dance Competition. I don’t know of any newspaper with such a long track record of giving away millions of dollars but the Daily News deserves a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize for its societal contribution. Spanakos twins from the Golden Gloves era of the 1950s representing a new generation of Golden Glovers who forfeited their professional boxing careers in their prime to secure college and terminal degrees. Petros earns a Juris Doctorate of Law and Nikos a Doctorate in Business Administration. Many Golden Gloves champions focused their goals on professional boxing to become world champions and not professional doctors, lawyers, educators, and chairmen of the boards.

The Golden Gloves competition has inspired essays, short stories, novels and books like the two recent books by Peter Wood, A Clenched Fist: The Making of a Golden Gloves Champion and a memoir, Confessions of a Fighter Battling Through the Golden Gloves both published by Ringside Books. Among many movies, was “The Golden Gloves Story,” which featured the young movie star, Robert Ryan in 1940.

I recommend this book to all sports fans who want to see how boxing’s character building values saved many people born into ghettos from their twin fate of poverty and despair similar to the Rocky movies messianic message of redemption.

Peter “Twin” Spanakos

Brooklyn, NY 11224

zundos@hotmail.com