Amy Donaldson: Young and old feel the magic of the ring

Published: Sunday, May 12 2013 11:00 p.m. MDT

Rodrigo Rubio enjoys a short workout in the parking lot of the Red Lion Sunday night. The 132-pound Iowa boxer will compete in the National Golden Gloves Tournament this week at the Salt Palace.

Amy Donaldson

SALT LAKE CITY – Rodrigo Rubio is still figuring out the kind of magic Golden Gloves boxing can work in his life.

As the Iowa teen converts a downtown parking lot into a make-shift boxing gym, people who’ve devoted their lives to the sport that’s given him hope discuss the amateur organization’s history, as well as it’s future, at the annual Hall of Fame dinner held on the eve of the National Golden Gloves Tournament.

For the second time, that tournament that features about 300 of the best amateur boxers in the country comes to Salt Lake City’s Salt Palace.

Those who coach aspiring national champions, those who officiate the bouts where history is made, and those who run the Golden Gloves organizations in 30 communities across the country honored a few of their own while extolling the virtues of a sport that doesn’t see anyone willing to work as hopeless.

“One thing about boxing,” said Gene Reese, who was inducted into the Officials Hall of Fame Sunday night, “you have to love it to stay in it. And I love it.”

Reese officiated in 26 countries in his 50 years in the ring. He’s officiated fights involving boxers who went on to win world championships, including Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Roy Jones, Sugar Ray Leonard, Aaron Pryor, Ray Mercer and Riddick Bowe.

Jim Howell, who coaches and owns St. Louis Missouri’s South Broadway Athletic Club, where fighters never have to pay to work out, was inducted into the Coaching Hall of Fame.

After most of the thank yous and awards had been handed out, it was time to induct Buddy LaRosa into the Golden Gloves Hall of Fame. He jogged to the podium where he talked about how a sport and the people in it gave a lost little boy a home. His father was a teamster organizer who “had more fights on the street than he had in the ring and he had 175 fights in the ring.” Eventually his father was incarserated and he ended up in a foster home.

“I had six older brothers and two girls, and I felt like Cinderfella in that family many times,” he said. “You had to fight, or you didn’t get nothing to eat. Seems like I’ve been fighting my whole life.”

He said he tried his best to “stay on the straight and narrow” but if it wasn’t for boxing, I din’t know whwere I’d be.”

He said boxing helped him channel his energy, and gave him a network of support that helped make him a successful business man in his home town of Cincinnati, Ohio.

“Boxing has been my second family, and the gym has been my second home, and it’s a reunion tonight,” he said. “I’m so excited.”

He’s was thrilled to see old friends who share a passion for a sport that rather than excise those struggling with life’s difficulties, it embraces them.

From the small towns of Wyoming to the gyms of New York City, boxing has given young people lessons in discipline and hard work longer than any of the people in that room have been alive.

“Boxing is a serious and a tough sport and a wonderful sport,” said Golden Gloves president Ray Rodgers, who presented St. Louis’ Jim Howell with the Coach of the Year award.

Utah Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, is a former boxer who has been instrumental in luring the national tournament to Utah twice, and he said he looked forward to what Golden Gloves boxing offered sports fans.

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