Golden Glove boxing started in Brainerd when Tom Hall literally "ran away from home" to take part in the 1933 Upper Midwest Golden Glove tourney. Hall late r became the Brainerd team's coach and his proteges, Tommy Herron and Ken Smart, were ready to take over when he elected to retire.
Several of his stables made spectacular showings and the naming of Dick Dean as "Fightingest Fighter" at the Upper Midwest ring carnival in 1953 was a feather in his cap for having started a successful program.
Dean, a frequent referee at local cards, was a welterweight known for a devastating right hand punch. He opened by blasting Ernie Langren of Orr to the canvas in the first round and then drew St. Paul's Jim Hegerle, who later turned professional. Dean lost under the most unusual circumstances as he was judged a TKO victim with just five seconds remaining in the bristling bout, which found both battlers landing their Sunday punches frequently and both hitting the deck at various times.
Hegerle said afterwards he never threw so many punches and "never was hit so hard in my life." The following year, Dean again reached the semi-finals and after losing to hard-hitting Willie Jemison of Albert Lea decided to give up active participation in the ring.
Hall, who said he came "out of the jackpines" to fight in the 1933 tourney, caused a considerable stir in the Twin Cities by decisioning the defending welterweight champion, Bob Rowell of the University of Minnesota.
Unsponsored and with no one to help him, Hall was unable to go all the way, losing his next bout to another Mill Citian, Tim Johnson; but the chance to take part sold him on the program and he worked hard after giving up his own career to get a tournament launched in this area.
In 1939, with the Brainerd Junior Chamber of Commerce acting as sponsor, a tournament which attracted 73 mitt-slingers was undertaken. The field included a future state attorney general, Miles Lord of Ironton, who came through to annex the middleweight title.
Brainerd competitors included Con O'Brien, Russ Fitzsimmons, Barney Houle and Ralph Burrows, among the still familiar names. An extra-added attraction, one which packed the Brainerd Armory to its 2,500 capacity, was securing of former heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey as the "third man in the ring."
Dempsey, welcomed to Brainerd by Mayor Harry Creger the night of the fights (Jan. 27), proved such an inspiration that it was estimated over a thousand people were turned away from the armory doors, which were thrown open at 6 p.m. to help slim the long lines of eager spectators.
A sensation on that card was the 219-pound, 16-year-oId heavyweight, Fitzsimmons, who decisioned Pete Mazar, a 222-pounder from Cuyuna, in the finals. However, Mazar made the Upper Midwest tourney trip, along with Roy Cottam and Art Thomas, Brainerd; Lord, Ironton; Pete Callisto, Crosby; Gordie Olson, Little Falls; Bennie Eisner. Remer; and Cliff Smodel, Cass Lake.
Lord and Mazar went all the way to the finals where the former was kayoed by Mandan's Tony Brucker and Mazar dropped a decision to Ted Van Der Vorste, Minneapolis. Guiding the team was Merrill (Red) -Edelston. Callisto, who won four all-regional fights by defauIt, won his first two in Minneapolis the same way. Then the rusty Cuyuna Ranger ran into the eventual bantam weight champion, George Degidio of Minneapolis, and was knocked out in the second round. His conqueror went on to win his first two bouts in the Chicago Tournament of Champions.
Illness prevented Lord from defending his crown in 1940 in as the the Brainerd Daily Dispatch headlined it, "The Spacious New Armory." Thomas and Fitzsimmons kept their crowns. Fitzsimmons, who was said to "have tired badly in the third round," lost a split decision to the defending champion from Minneapolis. It was also reported that the 3,500 fans present "booed the decision loudly."
In 1941, Fitzsimmons again won the regional and Brainerd fistic fans became ecstatic over his chances of producing the first Upper Midwest championship for the local program. The Fitzsimmons Special, referred to as "the Big Boy's Booster Bus," was arranged to take fans to Minneapolis (at a fare of $1.75 round trip). Big Russ moved to the semifinals, but lost to Thor Thorstenson of Minneapolis in a major upset.
With an armed forces call side-tracking Fitzsimmons from an opportunity the next season, the regional suddenly came up with another headliner in Elias (Al) Wotzka of Flensburg, boxing with the Little Falls team as a light heavyweight. Wotzka teamed with Ray Windorski, Deerwood heavyweight, to give the Brainerd team fourth place in the Upper Midwest tourney with 33 2-3 points. Windorski went to the finals where he was kayoed in the first round by Canadian Bill Zuke, a University of North Dakota football player.
Wotzka became the first from the region to pick off a crown. Along with Zuke and another Northwest champion named Jackie Graves of Austin, he gave Minneapolis strong representation in the Chicago tourney. Graves became the first from the Upper Midwest to win, as a bantam weight, at Chicago. Zuke was favored to do so, but an eye injury forced him to quit in a bout in which he was ahead on points.
Wotzka won his first bout, but ran into a Fort Worth (Tex.) Don McComas, Cecil Miller, Jerry Sullivan, Dick Collette and Darrell Gray moved on to Minneapolis, where Gray reached the featherweight semi-finals.
A regional champ in 1945 was Daily Dispatch sports editor Pat Keith, who later became an employee of United Press in New York City and Boston. Popping into the headlines for the first time was Nisswa's Dick Cook, a lightweight who advanced to the semifinals in the Mill City before losing a "razoredge decision" to a Fort Yates (N. D.) glover.
Cook's Golden Glove career is spotted with close losses in tournaments, but during the regular campaigns, it is distinguished by a pair of decisions over Superior's Al Andrews, who went on the make a name for himself professionally and was a featured performer in television headliners.
Herron, who turned out some strong local teams after Hall gave up the leadership in 1954, claimed his first regional title in 1946 and accompanied Cook, Miller and Bob Davis to Minneapolis, where Cook and Davis reached the quarterfinals before losing out.
Action of the Brainerd school hoard gave Brainerd's Golden Glovers their first permanent training quarters (at the lincoln school gym) in 1947; but building of the Brainerd YMCA provided an even better headquarters later on. Cook and Wotzka were the key men in 1947, Wotzka losing to champion Bob Marshall of Minneapolis in the semis and Cook dropping out again in the quarterfinals.
The following year, Wotzka turned trainer and the Jaycees, in appreciation of Hall's exemplary service, gave Tom a paid-up membership for life in their organization. Herb Torgerson, Max Wunderluch and Neil HoIm won District 22 championships and the team title for Brainerd. Wunderlich and Jim Newcomb went to the Minneapolis semis.
Brainerd won a district title again the following season with Torgerson, Herron, Wunderlich, Holm and McComas. Again, it was Wunderlich making the top state showing as he went to the semis before losing to Duluth's- Jim Perreault, another who turned professional.
Herron, in 1950, made his bit, bid for an Upper Midwest crown as he gained the finals in the lightweight bracket, but bowed to Bill Benson of Minneapolis on a split decision. Hall took his 10th Brainerd team to the tourney in 1951. Jack Miller won his first match, but then was kayoed by champion Don Faughn of St. Paul.
Daryll Adair survived the first round of the '52 classic, but lost by TKO in the first of his next match against champion Dave Sotelo of St. Paul when he caught a poke in the wind pipe.
Brainerd's police department took over the franchise from the Jaycees in 1953 with patrolman Don McComas, with assistance from Herron and HoIm, head trainer. Lee Walker, Dave DeCent, Dean and Norm Blixt won regional titles and Brainerd shared the team crown with little Falls, each scoring 39 points.
In 1955, the franchise shifted to Staples. Later, it moved to Wadena, where it has remained. Herron trained a regional championship team in 1956, one led by welterweight champ Don Hines and lightweight Joe Dobson; but the big noise of that years was bantamweight Chuck Hales of Staples, who won the Upper Midwest title and copped his first two bouts at Chicago. Five years ago, The Brainerd Daily Dispatch took over sponsorship of the Golden Gloves team with city editor Les Sellnow not only assisting Tom Herron in coaching the squad, along with John Sundby, Jim Herron and Clay Eisel in later seasons, but also arranging the booking of matches.
One of the most popular cards matched the 112-pound Sundby, formerly of Wadena, against Rolland Miller of Wahpeton, N. D. the 1965-67 Upper Midwest champion. The Brainerd Armory was packed for that one and Sundby, who claimed the Upper Midwest flyweight crown in 1968, pulled out a close decision in an action-packed, swift-moving encounter.
Sundby defeated Bobby Nesenson of Minneapolis in the '68 Upper Midwest title bout and entered the national tourney at Salt Lake City, where he won from a Cleveland fighter, got a second round bye and then lost to a Kansas City Negro, who lost to the eventual champion.
With Brainerd sharing the regional championship two seasons and then winning it out-right the past winter, a number of local youths have competed in the Upper Midwest, including Joey Kretzman, Mike, Mark and Jim Herron and Frank Bonsante.
A feature of each season fbr these hard-working youngsters is the awarding of the Loule Hansen Memorial Award, a wristwatch, by the Daily Dispatch. Hansen was a longtime promoter of the sport and a frequent announcer. Earning this distinction have been Eisel in 1966, Jim Herron in 1967, followed by Mark in 1968 and Mike in 1969 and Kretzman in 1970.
Reproduced from the Centennial Edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (1871-1971).