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-- Amateur boxing events highlighted athletics at St. Bonaventure in the 1920s --

[Note: This feature originally appeared in the Oct. 9, 2009 edition o The Bona Venture. Because The BV's archives have disappeared from the Internet, I've been posting some of my work here. Today's installment harkens back to the days of awesome nicknames and Alfred G. Smith references. Man, I love sports history.]


In the roaring '20s, before Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano blazed the professional trail; before Sugar Ray Robinson became a pro and Muhammed Ali became "The Greatest of All Time"; before Rocky Balboa scaled the steps in Center City, Philadelphia, amateur boxing thrived at St. Bonaventure College.

Introduced to the school in 1916, boxing drew large crowds and local fighters, as pugilists from Buffalo, Olean, Allegany and Salamanca converged for regular events.

The names filling out the cards lacked national notoriety, but they included some marquee names from Bona's athletics at the time. "Shino" McDonald, the baseball team's pitching ace, and Silas Rooney, a tackle for the football team, both took up boxing in the offseason.

In the mid-'20s, a large student population sought to develop skill and strengthen technique for the popular sport in the college's bustling gym, some earning the right to play on the official boxing team.

"St. Bonaventure's college has a dozen exceptionally good ring prospects in the squad of nearly one hundred athletes who train daily at the college gym," reported The Laurel in 1926.

"Bud" Cruess, Fiji Zuain, Dan Quinlan and Frankie Hennessy highlighted boxing programs held montly and semi-monthly in boxing's heyday. They shared the ring with "Yock" Hamilton, "Sharkey" welterweight champion of the world "Mickey" Walker and Balboa Falvo, "The Wild Bull of the Campus."

Despite entering his Feb. 20, 1925 match as the favorite, Falvo battled "Tony" Caruso to a draw.

"It isn't that Falvo is going back(ward) but that Caruso is making such great strides to the front lately, that this bout ended the way it did," The Laurel reported.

Two months later, a frustrated Falvo had an open challenge placed in a column titled "Chatter From the Bleachers."

"'Wild Bull' Falvo, former featherweight champion of the college is quite incensed over the decisions handed him in his recent bouts," A. Rooter wrote. "He wishes through this column to challenge any man in the school at 127 pounds."

The Bona boxers also accepted challenges from off-campus combatants. On April 28, 1925, "Yock" Hamilton, the light-weight champion of the college, faced Kid Dinkle, "an ebony-hued lightweight from the U.S.S. Pennsylvania," according to The Laurel.

Dinkle came out with a strong first round, but Hamilton held on and retaliated with a strong second round, knocking Dinkle down for counts of nine, six and six.

"The fight was marked by the boxing skill of Hamilton and the gameness of Dinkle under severe punishment," The Laurel reported.

In 1926, Hamilton fought to a six-round draw with Fritz Meiler, drawing adulation from what The Laurel called "the largest crowd of boxing fans that ever packed into Butler Gymnasium."

According to The Laurel, "The fight was one to stir the heart of the most exciting fan. (Hamilton and Meiler) fought cleanly and have furnished six rounds of action and sportsmanship."

Those in attendance took note and showed their appreciation.

"The fans voiced their approbation of this bout with some lusty yelling at the conclusion," The Laurel reported.

Signifying boxing's popularity at the time, the large audiences' reactions to the bouts often appear in their recounts.

In a fight between Charlie Over and Bob Smay on April 28, 1925, "both boys fought with speed and skill and had the house on their feet most of the time by their constant mixing," according to The Laurel.

Another fight on the same card, between Quinlan and Jimmy Barr "put the crowd in fine humor by their funny antics, and it ended with Quinlan an easy victor," The Laurel reported.

Other than drawing large crowds, the college's boxing team recruited top boxers from other areas.

In 1925, Jules Schwadson, a 150-pound sophomore, joined the Bona boxers after captaining the freshman boxing team at Syracuse University.

"(Schwadson) made a reputation at Syracuse University when he stepped into the boxing trunks one day and in the short period of three quarters of an hour took on and disposed of two heavies and a middle(weight)."

Transferring to Bonaventure, "Julie" Schwadson trained, along with the other boxers, under Jack Pry, a local boxing legend.

Pry, a Salamanca native, built his status as the only boxer to knock Buffalo's Jimmy Slattery on his back, according to The Laurel. Beyond coaching, Pry participated in exhibition bouts. He fought Schwadson in 1926.

In the first card at Butler Gym in 1928, years after his encounter with Pry, Slattery earned a technical knockout victory over a boxer named Falvey, as he was "administering a terrific beating," The Laurel reported.

While Slattery earned a reputation for beatings administered, other boxers earned reputations for the beatings they received.

In 1928, as part of the annual Catholic Mission Crusade boxing card, Steve Propps' bout ended in a familiar fashion.

"As is the custom, Steve Propps caught another good game, but Steve took the beating nonchalantly and proved to be an ideal punching bag for Tony Gatto," The Laurel reported.

The beatings in amateur boxing risked serious physical harm each time the opening bell tolled. In 1926, Hamilton, refereeing a fight between Jack Dewey and Bob Small, stopped the bout in the second round because of Small's physical condition.

"It was evident from the start that a recent operation had somewhat stopped Bob's vitality, and he was not in condition for the fight," The Laurel reported.

Fewer than four years later, tragedy delivered a lethal punch to amateur boxing at Bonaventure, forcing the operation to discontinue.

On Jan. 14, 1930, Evan (Swede) Gustafson, a Mount Jewett, Pa. native, died while fighting in a match. Gustafson's passing drew concern from the community that cheered it on for 15 years.

"The death of a participant in an unsanctioned bout at Olean again has centered attention on 'bootleg boxing,' and resulted in pleas for legislation to outlaw it," The Associated Press reported on the day of the event.

Boxing made a return to campus on May 5, 1948, as collegiate boxers and fighters from R.O.T.C. squared off for eight bouts. The rejuvenated boxing program ran as strictly an amateur operation sanctioned by the Amateur Athletic Union.

Once again absent from the athletics program, boxing still remains a part of its history. Decades after the final boxing match stirred the crowd in Butler Gym, the stories of boxers and the bouts they fought live on.

Like the story of the May 10, 1928 bout between Bonaventure's Jimmy "Tiger" Barr and Buffalo's "Kid" Alex Trainer.

In just his third fight, Barr had no expectation to last even two rounds against Trainer, a veteran boxer in his 83rd match.

"But dopesters had not considered Bonaventure's athletic training and had underestimated Barr's ability," The Laurel reported.

Bar knocked out favored Trainer in 90 seconds.

"He earned the nickname 'Tiger,' for he tore in at the gong, and for 90 seconds kept tearing," The Laurel reported. "He then forced his opponent to the ropes and finished his man in sensational style by a two-fisted onslaught to the jaw."

The Bonaventure audience voiced its approval.

"The crowd became so excited over this sensational bout that for 10 minutes it resembled the National Democratic Convention when Alfred G. Smith's name was placed in the race for the nomination for President."

As Alfred G. Smith faded from political prominence, boxing saw its "glory days" fade away.

But in the thrill of Barr's improbable victory, The Laurel reported that the bout "will go down in history of St. Bonaventure's boxing."

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
felixwas
Feb. 13th, 2013 03:59 am (UTC)
I once performed in a play in the Butler Gym, I think in 1973. Between scenes I would run laps on the upstairs track. That is all I can remember.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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