With permission of the wardens involved and of Department of Corrections Director Bill Leeke, Douglas would load up his car with boxers and drive them anywhere he could find a likely tournament. "When I'd take those black fighters into Klan country, I'd always tell 'em if they won by a knockout, don't come back to the car but look for me somewhere down the road," Douglas laughs.
In April of 1970, Douglas bought some clothes for Hunter and several other fighters and escorted them to the National AAU Tournament in Trenton, N.J. Hunter was beaten there. " Bobby Lee never had been so far from home. I think he was kind of confused," says Douglas. By now Hunter had begun training at the Memorial Youth Center in Columbia under the direction of Chris Hitopoulos, a druggist who had gone to the University of South Carolina with Douglas. In December of 1970 Hunter beat the national AAU champion. Douglas had been transferred to the Juvenile Corrections Department in August, with the job of chasing escapees, but in the spring of 1971 he and Hitopoulos took Hunter to the national AAU in New Orleans. Hunter was supposed to sleep in the New Orleans jail, but Douglas would smuggle him out and into a motel. It may have been unusual penal procedure, but it was sound managing. Bobby Lee won the national flyweight championship.
Hunter was then invited to the Pan-American Games, but Douglas was busy tracking down 97 inmates who had left the detention center without approval, and he could not go. He recommended Hitopoulos as Hunter's escort, but Hitopoulos was not a police officer. So Hunter, with Leeke's O.K., chose Ray Satterfield, who had resigned as a supervisor in a glass manufacturing plant and become a prison guard at Manning. Though Hunter lost a disputed decision in the Pan-American Games, he won a bronze medal, and when he returned there was a press conference for him in the governor's office. Douglas and Hitopoulos had not been asked to attend, but Douglas went—in his words, "A little snooted up"—and he said a few things you are not supposed to say in front of the boss. He has not traveled with Hunter again.
Since then Satterfield has been Hunter's companion on the road, his expenses paid by donations, and it has proved to be a long road. For starters, he and Bobby Lee went on an AAU boxing tour of Russia and England. In London, Hunter decisioned the British champ in front of a black-tie crowd in the ballroom at the Hilton. In Russia he split two bouts. Though they share a room when they travel, Satterfield allows Hunter considerable freedom while Satterfield searches out the company of boxing coaches to try to increase his knowledge of what is going on in the ring. "I know it never crosses Bobby's mind to run off. He has too much at stake." says Satterfield.
Hunter has now found himself a celebrity at the age of 21. Girls he has never seen write him letters. At least three movie companies have inquired about doing his life story. He has appeared on an ABC-TV special and on The David Frost Show. Before the latter, he was understandably terrified. "I didn't know how to talk like those people do." he says. "I had bad butterflies. But as soon as I walked into the lights it was like getting into the ring and it was O.K." What wasn't O.K. was the meal he had at Sardi's, the flashy restaurant show people like to be seen in. Bobby Lee ordered fried chicken, which he likes a little better than he likes fried shrimp, which he likes far better than he likes anything else. "They brought me out a plate of something like I never saw before," he says. "It was chicken with a bunch of stuff on it."
By last month, amid speculation about Hunter defending his AAU title, going on to the Olympic Trials and perhaps winning a gold medal for the United States in Munich this summer, there seemed to be some danger that Bobby Lee's ambition was cooling down. He was trying to train himself; running four miles a day around the prison yard, punching the bag in a hallway, sparring when he could locate someone to fight him. But he still gained 10 pounds. He had refused to cat prison cafeteria food and was living on bologna and canned peaches he bought at the commissary. He arrived at the commissary a few minutes after closing time one evening and Satterfield, who was on duty, refused to sell him anything. Bobby Lee felt the chains of his circumstance.
"Bobby might be kind of low," said his friend Frog, sitting on the grass in front of the dormitory building at Manning on a cool, windy afternoon. "He's a good guy, you know. When he comes back from a trip he'll go into the wards and tell the guys what all happened. He's got a lot of friends, and he jives around a lot with everybody. But it's not hard to get low in here."
The same day Hunter would not say much about what was on his mind. He lay on his bunk, beneath the plaque he had won in Russia, reading boxing magazines. He talked about his travels, about a Russian who had dazed him with a right hand that came in over Bobby's left. "I got to stop dropping that left," he said with a slight smile. "I think maybe I could use some coaching."
Ten days before the national AAU tournament opened a fortnight ago in Las Vegas, Chris Hitopoulos and Red Douglas were called hack to work with Hunter. His weight dropped. He won his state AAU division and journeyed to Las Vegas with Satterfield, Roger Kirkpatrick and Reggie Barrett, a Charleston amateur boxing coach. Hunter avoided the shows and the casinos and. when he could, the movie cameras. With reason. He faced five fights in the Convention Center in three days.
Hunter won his first bout by a decision and had a tough time of it. In his second fight he missed a few whistlers with both hands early in the first round and then knocked out his opponent with a left hook that was struck so fast it couldn't be seen. But it could be heard—like a toy balloon exploding. The third fight was another knockout, this time in the third round, the victim a boxer about six inches taller than Hunter. In the semifinals he outpointed Gary Griffith, the 1971 champion in the 106-pound class, and was upset with himself that the fight had been close.