Golden Gloves, Youthful Spirit
May 11th, 2009Filed under: Collections
Golden Gloves program, collection of Chicago History Museum
Since Chicago concluded another season of Golden Gloves amateur boxing championships at St. Andrew’s Gym on the North Side a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to bring some vintage footage out of the vaults of our WGN archive collection. Some of what you will see is b-roll footage that would roll with the sports report on the TV news. The competitions at St. Andrew’s date back to the 1930s, when Bishop Bernard Sheil of the Archdiocese of Chicago had the gym constructed as part of the parish school’s complex for youth boxing, which in the 1930s and 1940s would become the highlight of Sheil’s nationally celebrated Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) sports program (no girls allowed in the ring in those days).
Chicago Golden Gloves newsfilm clip “Bouts in Ring,” Chicago Stadium, February 26, 1953. Chicago History Museum, gift of WGN.
Is it me, or does boxing receive a lot less attention in Chicago than it used to? The Golden Gloves has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, back at good old St. Andrew’s. During the heyday of Golden Gloves attendance St. Andrew’s hosted sectional competitions rather than the finals—those were held at big venues like Soldier Field, Wrigley Field, and the bygone Chicago Stadium (now the site of the United Center). South Side sectionals took place at sports-heavy Catholic schools like St. Rita’s.
Boxing rose to prominence in the later 19th century in Chicago, where it was nearly immediately subject to controversy and corruption over gambling and excessive violence. By 1901 the sport was illegal in the city and it took nearly 25 years to overturn the law and regulate fights. Chicago Tribune sportswriter and editor Arch Ward had a dream to raise money for Chicago Tribune Charities through amateur bouts called “Golden Gloves” (the champions received a golden pendant in the shape of gloves), but suffered years of legal setbacks in the 1920s. He helped get boxing legalized in 1926, the year that the Illinois Boxing Commission formed.
In 1930, Ward, a hard-working Chicago Catholic, teamed with Bishop Sheil to collaborate on the process of raising money for children and promoting the fights through a new well-funded sports and recreation program called CYO. Young men got initial training at CYO gyms and Catholic schools, then entered the Golden Gloves competitions. That’s why the Golden Gloves and CYO programs often seemed one and the same. Their success spread to similar programs around the country, and CYO boxing went national. Many Golden Gloves and CYO athletes traveled abroad to represent the United States in the Olympics. For the athletes, most of them poor and very underprivileged, this offered the opportunity to go pro. Joe Louis, of course, was early proof of the programs’ success. In 1937, the legend became Heavyweight Champion of the World by defeating Jimmy Braddock at Comiskey Park (now U.S. Cellular Field) three years after his Chicago Golden Gloves victory.
What about the young ladies who compete? The Chicago Golden Gloves competitions finally opened to women in 1994, and they compete regularly. At a program last December I had the privilege to meet Samantha Guzman, a national champ and Olympic hopeful who just started college but can’t get a higher education scholarship for women’s boxing. What’s the equivalent of “glass ceiling” in boxing terms—caught in the ropes?