• U.S.

Sport: Boxing Safe & Sane

3 minute read
TIME

On prewar college campuses, most boxing coaches seemed determined to turn fistfighting into a proper form of fun and games. They taught all their young gentlemen to spar like featherweights. Such old-timers as Navy’s Spike Webb (TIME, Aug. 2), Princeton’s Spider Kelly and Yale’s Mosey King turned even their heavyweights into Fancy Dans. It was all very civilized—and just a little too light-foot to please the crowds.

Today, on a score of campuses where the sport has hung on, boxing is beginning to flex its muscles with new vigor. But the revival bears no resemblance to the bloody donnybrooks of the professional prize ring. College boxing is safer and saner than ever. New rules require college fighters to wear protective headgear and use 12-oz. gloves; there is a mandatory nine-count on all knockdowns, and referees have a free-wheeling authority for stopping one-sided scraps. Protected by such careful conventions, undergraduates cut loose with skillful enthusiasm. A college fight is limited to three 2-minute rounds; there is never any time for the clinch and stall that are stock in trade of so many cauliflowered pugs.

Last week, in Idaho State College’s jampacked gymnasium, rugged undergraduates from 17 colleges whaled away at each other for three days to settle the N.C.A.A. championships. Superbly conditioned, Louisiana State’s sophomore heavyweight, Crowe Peele, demonstrated just how good a college boxer can get. Although his team finished behind Michigan State in a three-way tie for second (along with San Jose State and Syracuse University), Peele battered his way through the tournament finals without a defeat.

A rough-and-ready slugger who insists that all he does is “throw punches until something gives,” Champion Peele is more of a stylist than he likes to admit. Bobbing, weaving, ducking, he is an elusive target; he knows how to fight his way out of trouble with furious flurries. “He has every punch in the book.” says his admiring coach, J. T. Owen. “And he has that something extra—that Dempsey instinct. He wants to go.”

In Pocatello, even the fans were a breed apart from the usual fight mob. Through most of the bouts, they hunched in their seats, intent and silent as a TV audience. Contestants could be heard coaching their teammates from far back of the ringside: “Use your right, Joe. Keep jabbin’. For God’s sake, jab.” And when Idaho State’s defending champion, Heavyweight Mike McMurtry, was belted glassy-eyed, a spectator’s voice sounded clear above the hush: “That may be the best thing ever hit Mike. He’s been thinking of turning pro. I hope this’ll cure him.” For even the fiercest collegiate fan likes to look on boxing as a sensible sport; few find the pro prize ring a fit place for a postgraduate career.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com