It's been a three-year struggle to get any real boxing competition going at the Utah Summer Games, but Tuesday night's effort indicated that the sport can be a success - for the participants, audience and organizers.
Boxing lasted only a few matches in the inaugural 1986 Summer Games before the competition was scratched. Last year, the sport was knocked out even before it started - some saying for want of competitors, others for a ring.Anyway, that's all history, with all the 1988 obstacles - still relatively few boxers, continued organizational scrambling, and another threatening rainstorm - overcome enough about to bring six matches, with gold medals riding on the outcome. Wednesday night's second and final slate is expected to feature seven more gold-medal matches.
Roger Pulivo, a volunteer boxing coach at Ogden's Marshall White Center and the state's vice president of the USA American Boxing Federation, was performing triple duty Tuesday night as the makeshift boxing coordinator for the Games.
The past problems are understandable, given the financial considerations of the young boxers. "The majority of these kids come from low-income families, some from middle-income families," Pulivo said. "They don't come from families whose parents can fork out $400 or $500 dollars and say `have a good time.' "
First, all boxers have to pay $10 for their USA/ABF registration, plus another $10 fee for Summer Games. Then add in the transportation, lodging and meal costs. "You're talking about each kid paying an average of $50 to $80," he said.
For the Ogden boxers, the city recreational department helps with support, the the boxers themselves organizing three boxing shows a year to send proceeds back to the city. "Without the city's support, we wouldn't be here," Pulivo said.
Pulivo and his wife, Rita, who was working the corner for four fights and shifting over as a ringside fight judge for the other two matches, represent the efforts of the coaches and supporters.
Roger is a supply clerk at Hill Air Force Base, who took on the boxing coach's role some five years ago when the city of Ogden threatened to abolish the program as a cost-cutting measure. A former Marshall White Center boxer himself who went on to reach all-Army status as a 119-pound bantam fighter in Europe during the '70s, he schedules his vacation and leave to coordinate with out-of-town boxing trips for the Ogden youth.
Meanwhile, Rita has to take leave of her job as a beautician to join the entourage. She and her husband brought nine young boxers to Cedar City this week - just two weeks after taking a contingent to the Junior National regionals in Arizona.
Making the rounds at ringside before tuesday night's matches got underway, Pulivo seemed determined to make this year's boxing competition a success, citing the 100th anniversary of amateur boxing. "This is a unique opportunity for the kids to compete during the 100th anniversary year and also box in an Olympic-type setting."
That Olympic-type setting Tuesday night was at Southern Utah State College's Thunderbird Stadium. Rich Wilson, the Games' executive director, was on hand to lend moral support, to watch what was hoped to be a succesful effort, and to set up extra chairs for the incoming crowd.
Officials scrambled to find someone to sing the national anthem - no matter that there wasn't a flag in sight. Referee Jay Fullmer ultimately volunteered and offered a spirited rendition before officiating the first fight - between a pair of 70-pound youngsters.
After the first couple of matches, the crowd became comfortable with cheering and encouraging, which added to the atmosphere. And boxing proved to be perhaps the top spectator sport so far in the first two days of the '88 Games. Consider that a mere 12 boxers drew an audience of 300-plus - that's the best participant-spectator ratio so far in Cedar City.
"This is a good start," said Pulivo. "We're getting our feet wet. This will get better and better."
After the first couple of confusing years, boxing at the Summer Games certainly can't get much worse.