A short remembrance by Teddy Atlas
“High Noon” in Catskill, New York, a noise shot through the town. Echoes of Gary Cooper in Dodge City? No, just compressed air “coughing” from the Village horn. When E. F. Hutton speaks……. When an old horn screams, nobody talks…..except this day. Eleven-year-old Gary would jump on this chance like Michael Jordan on a loose ball.
His timing proved his Catskill heritage as he synchronized his words with each blast of air. He sounded like any other kid trying to out-talk a horn, until it stopped. Then Gary stopped. He had a silent look of disappointment. Although enemies to my ears, the horn bellows were Gary’s allies. With all the noise I hadn’t noticed Gary’s hand never moved from the side of his mouth. As it did slowly, I noticed the lip was deformed, a harelip. Also obvious was the severity of the emotional scar.
With the air still, he steadied himself. “Damn horn,” I complained as I snuck my head closer. Some words I understood; all of them I acknowledged. Instinct took over, as it had when he went partners with the horn. My head seemed to nod on it’s own. What had to be done seemed simple enough. My trade was training fighters and we had a gym full of youths. So, get Gary into the gym, and teach him to box. After all, I wasn’t a speech therapist. His desire for normalcy and acceptance would overcome his shyness and disfigurement.
In only two years, he beat a group of 13-year-olds while winning the Adirondack Junior Olympic Championships in the seventy-five pound division. In just as impressive and determined a fashion, he overcame and demolished a speech impediment like a Tyson left hook erasing an opponent. Soon Gary attained a normal reading level and participated in class for the first time. On his next report card, his teacher commented on the success of the speech classes, and I knew, if she didn’t, it was a continuance of his gym accomplishments.
Mane Monroe was different. Noontime break didn’t cause this 12-year-old to talk…just cringe. The air blasts from this horn meant lunchtime and a tough kid named Goo would be collecting his lunch money.
After Mane stumbled upon the gym, we put our heads together to do some brainstorming. We figured he wasn’t too comfortable around horses, so becoming a jockey was out. His eighty-five pound frame now began the chore of mastering the heavy bag. Following a couple of rounds (at under one-hundred pounds), hitting the bag with no lunch in your belly is like swimming with your legs tied together. After a few consultations with his new “management team,” it was decided a new routine was in order. Let Goo buy his own lunch. With confidence in the gym and the growl of his stomach, Mane confronted Goo as any dreams of ever riding in the Kentucky Derby ended.
Of course, boxing isn’t always this romantic. There are the reverberations of Howard Cosell’s impassioned, if not self-committed documentation of Tex Cobb’s imitation of a light bag against Larry Holmes’ fists. Howie dramatically removed himself from the sport of professional boxing like any other true humanitarian who wished to protest such a brutal contest.
In previous years when Howie developed on the airwaves, he had a tough skin. As time passed, scar tissue formed, and so did a bleeding heart. Of course there are other blows in today’s society that strike harder and cut deeper than the late, great Sugar Ray Robinson’s combinations ever did.
There are other things besides punches that can do great damage.
Of course, Congressmen, educators, and the like will say we need to direct our youth into schools and teach them productive trades. I agree! That is what Gary accomplished in his second year at a University, and what Mane did with a basketball scholarship on a frame that was built on refunded lunches from his old nemesis. Yes, we need an education, strong family principles, and guidance. We must also learn defense from the “hooks” and “jabs” of life as we find confidence and direction. Boxing can sometimes teach us these things. Just ask Gary; he’ll tell you.
Teddy wrote this many years ago while training fighters in the Catskills, including Mike Tyson. The values it expresses certainly hold true today and illustrate some of the many good things boxing can do (if applied correctly).
Teddy Atlas is currently the “Color” Commentator for ESPN2 Friday Night Fights. He has been training fighters since 1976. Champions with whom he has worked include: Michael Moorer, Michael Grant, Tracy Patterson, Joey Gamache, Simon Brown, and Barry McGuigan. He recently received the Boxing Writers’ Association Award for Best Television Commentator.