They said, “You’re too young to be a coach.” And I said, “Show me in the rulebook where it says there is an age limit.” And they couldn’t come up with one, so they let me, and from that time on, I had the fever. And I’ve still got the fever. —Golden Gloves President Ray Rodgers
Ray Rodgers has been involved with amateur boxing as a fighter and coach for 65 years. He guides the country’s most high-profile amateur boxing league while still coaching at his own gym and education center in Arkansas. He was in Salt Lake City for the 2013 national Golden Gloves tournament this past week and answered questions from Deseret News reporter Amy Donaldson.
How did you get into boxing?
I was in grade school in Tecumseh, Okla., in 1947, and they came around. I was in the fifth grade, and they said, “Does anybody in this class want to box? If you bring a note from your parent tomorrow giving you permission, we’ll give you a tryout.”
I liked it, and then I got to go on trips out of town and get out of school, and I loved that. That was probably what captured me, and I just became enamored by it, and I’ve been at it ever since.
I never won a national title; I won many, many regional titles. I never finished worse than second in any fight I was ever in. I won many, many state and regional championships. I just never could get to the big dance. There was always somebody better and I won’t tell you any different than that.
Why did you stay involved with amateur boxing?
It’s almost an obsession. ... I kept boxing for seven years after I started coaching. I was 16 years old, and I took three little boys to what they call "special ways." Now they call it Junior Olympics ... 50 to 105 pounds. They said, “You’re too young to be a coach.” And I said, “Show me in the rulebook where it says there is an age limit.” And they couldn’t come up with one, so they let me, and from that time on, I had the fever. And I’ve still got the fever.
Why did you have such a passion for coaching?
The thing about it, I got an email the other day from a kid in Dallas who boxed for me 20 years ago, and he said, “Coach, you probably don’t remember me...” And I did remember him, and I sent him an email back, because he was the kind of kid, as soon as the referee would start giving them instructions, his nose would start bleeding. And you don’t forget kids like that. I have helped many, many kids go to college through various scholarship applications. To see them do well, become productive citizens and hopefully return to the program someday, then I’ve done my job. And I’ve really enjoyed it.
I have an education center that I built next to my gym that’s called Golden Gloves Education Center. We have a tutoring program and a computer lab and that type of thing. We’ve really, really enjoyed working with kids. I mean, that’s what it’s all about.
Do most successful amateurs end up boxing professionally?
Not always. And let me tell you what, I tell them, “If you’ve got a choice between college and boxing, certainly take the college route."
Why is that?
You can’t make a living with your hands other than if you’re a mechanic ... or a doctor. One kid out of every 20,000 can’t make more than enough money to buy a hamburger in professional boxing, no matter what these slick promoters tell them. I’ve worked more than 50 world championship fights. I work in the pros as a cut man, and I go all over the world. I don’t have a stomach for professional boxing. It’s a dirty business. It’s an absolutely dirty business.
How healthy do you think amateur boxing is?
Very healthy. Being interested and involved in Golden Gloves as long as I have been extremely interested in that, and I’ve kind of unofficially and informally polled coaches and things, and if anything, amateur boxing is back on the rise to where it will seek its glory place where we’ve been in the past. Can I give you specific numbers? No. But I go all over the country and everywhere I go, we’re having amateur boxing and that’s a good sign, a healthy sign.
What caused the drop-off?
One of the only problems I see, there is so much entry level at young ages (for other sports). We can only start a youngster at 8 years old because of insurance requirements, and they’re starting soccer and peewee ball and all that at 3. ... As soon as you can walk. ... And I’ll tell you what, the younger ones bring the fans out.
What is the best thing young people get from boxing?
Self-motivation and discipline. Self-discipline is the only discipline that lasts. You can make a kid stand in the corner; you can spank him and all of that; but self-discipline is something that will stay with you all your life.
Why does boxing teach that lesson so well?
Because you have to be so intense, so focused on making sure you get yourself to the peak of competition. And it just tends to meld you into a person who is a doer instead of a talker.