The biggest sporting event at the high school I attended did not occur on the gridiron or the diamond or the court or the cinder track but, rather, in the ring. It was the Annual All-School Boxing Show, and it was the school superintendent's pet project. As an unsophisticated teen-ager, I believed that the superintendent had conceived this yearly spectacle in order to fill a dull void in late March after the basketball season had ended but while it was yet too cold to begin baseball and track. However, in later years I looked back and realized that the boxing tournament had been instituted primarily as a sure-fire method for enriching the school's athletic department.
Financially, the fistic show couldn't have failed. Our town abounded with boxing enthusiasts. Even so, the superintendent left nothing to chance. Each student was instructed to buy a 35� junior ticket for himself and was expected to hustle at least a pair of 75� adult tickets among his parents, relatives and adult acquaintances.
One thing about the superintendent, he insisted upon giving the ticket buyers their money's worth. The boxing tournament ran for a week. Consequently, it required a starting field of nearly 130 combatants. A complicating factor was the fact that there were in the school perhaps only 20 boys who really knew what to do after lacing on a pair of boxing gloves. They were a lethal array. Some were Golden Glovers, and several of them actually fought at clubs in nearby Minneapolis for what was euphemistically referred to as expenses.
Naturally, the rest of us dreaded the prospect of climbing into the ring with any one of them. We rightly considered that Custer's troops had enjoyed a fairer shake against the Indians. As a result, boxing-show recruitment posed a major challenge. The superintendent surmounted it easily by appointing the football, basketball, track and baseball coaches as the boxing-show co-promoters and talent scouts.
So along about St. Patrick's Day each aspirant for athletic glory could count on being summoned to the appropriate coach's office. Red Sjolberg, the football coach, favored the direct approach. "MacKay," he'd purr at me, "practice a lotta passin' this summer and keep your legs in shape, 'cause I plan to play you a lot next fall." Then he'd add, "Unless, of course, you do something to change my mind. Here. Sign this."
"This" always turned out to be an Annual All-School Boxing Show entry blank. One does not tell the man who holds sole power over one's athletic future to go stuff his boxing-show entry blank in the wastebasket. I signed. Everybody signed.
Not that we low-rated the boxing tourney. The winner of each division was awarded a handsome purple felt boxing glove with CHAMPION emblazoned in gold across it. The emblem was as prized as a major-sport monogram. It carried with it a dividend, because the mere sight of one on a letter sweater usually inhibited belligerent types from nearby towns at Saturday night dances.
However, we nonboxers were realists. Even if we lucked out a couple of wins in the early bouts, we knew that sooner or later we would meet a genuine boxer who would gleefully practice his two-, three-and four-punch combinations on the lower parts of our faces. Prudence dictated that one must lose his opening bout without seeming to take an out-and-out dive. If one's opponent was also inept the trick was to let him outpoint you. Those of us who unfortunately drew a bona fide fighter would make a craven deal, extracting his oath to pull his punches in return for our sincere pledge "not to try no funny stuff." If that failed, the only stratagem remaining was to catch his opening punch on the gloves and then sink to the canvas as if mortally wounded.
However, in my junior year overweening ambition got the best of me. Looking over the field in my 134-to-145-pound bracket, I failed to find listed the name of anyone who might remotely be considered a pugilist. I resolved to win the title, and I enlisted the aid of my best buddy, Bert Kloster. "Start a rumor," I instructed him. "Say that I have been taking secret boxing lessons and that I am a natural southpaw with a dynamite left."
Bert reminded me, "You can't fight for the championship on Friday night. Friday's federal inspection."