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When the H.A.A. first emphasized its slogan, "Athletics For All", in the mid-thirties, and Badminton, Basketball and Polo were all minor sports, a new athletic team began and ended one of the most incredible careers in the University's athletic history.
The team, which capitalized on a sport then barely ten years old in intercollegiate competition, drew crowds of over 1800 to the new Indoor Athletic Building for a single match. Then, suddenly, boxing as an intercollegiate sport at Harvard was gone in 1938.
Today, as interest in reviving boxing in the Ivy League again appears, no one can remember exactly why it was even given up. It wasn't because of injuries--only one boxer ever received even a cut in the team's short history. And it wasn't because of a waning enthusiasm for the sport--every day more than 75 men worked out in the boxing room.
Henry Lamar, University Boxing Coach since 1931 and present Boxing Commissioner of Massachusetts, yesterday pointed out that "there just weren't any more teams in our league left to play. Everyone was giving it up." This story, he added, might explain why these colleges were no longer interested in the sport:
"One of Harvard's most outstanding boxers, Bill Smith, won the light-heavy-weight N.C.A.A. championship in 1935 and was lining up with the other intercollegiate champs after the tourney for a picture. The heavyweight champion beside him smiled and nudged him. 'Out of 108 fights, I've won 105, tied one and lost two. Not bad, huh' he boasted. 'How many have you won, kid?' Smith, who had only boxed since entering college, was amazed. 'Ten,' he answered.
"The man beside him, Smith learned later, had been fighting since he was a boy and was a former A.A.U. champ."
As in other sports, Lamar said, the temptation for colleges to import highly-trained amateur boxers was too great and teams such as Virginia, Syracuse, and Penn State each year included several A.A.U. champions.
Positive that this custom was the primary cause of boxing's early death in the College, Lamar, in 1939, proposed a ruling which prohibited anyone who had boxed in a public contest after the age of sixteen from competing in intercollegiate boxing--amateurs cannot box officially until seventeen. The N.C.A.A. turned down this proposal, however, until 1948 when the last of the big Eastern schools gave up the sport.
Recent changes have moved the age limit to eighteen, however, and Lamar is again petitioning the Rules Committee for a regulation which he feels will insure a future for intercollegiate boxing in the Ivy league if the sport should be revived.
Lamar himself, he admits, as two-time National A.A.U. Champion in his college career at Virginia, probably, though innocently, helped to bring about the downfall of intercollegiate boxing. However, he insists, the only opponents he was ever permitted to fight were other A.A.U. leaders. A Pan-American athlete in 1925, Lamar became Boxing Commissioner in Massachusetts in 1953 and was recently reappointed to serve for another three years in that post.
There appears to be no question of boxing ever being refused a minor letter as a mere safety precaution. In Harvard's intercollegiate history, with almost no special protective equipment required by the N.C.A.A., the total injuries amounted to: 15 hurt thumbs, 1 cut, 1 deviated septum, I sprained ankle (in practice), and zero broken noses.
Maybe Just Lucky
Today's Boxing Rules show the realization, however, that the boxers in 1930-37 might have just been very lucky. Every boxer must now use 12-ounce gloves (vs. 10-ounce in 1930's). Headgeers which also protect the ears and forehead are required. And fighters must have steel athletic supporters and a rubber mouth piece. In addition, the ring must have a mat with a two-inch padding.
Behind these new regulations is the N.C.A.A.'s basic conviction that intercollegiate boxing "de-emphasize power and emphasize skill." The Preamble to the Collegiate Rules adds that "a knockdown or knockout, should it occur, is considered incidental to an in-
Sport of Skill
The following is from the preamble to the N.C.A.A. boxing rules:
"Boxing is a sport of skill participated in for the fun and satisfaction derived. There are many boys who have need of a direct method of dissipating their aggressions and boxing provides that opportunity . . .
"Skill is the criterion, not brute power or force; points not knockdowns; clear hits not knockouts. Intercollegiate boxing de-emphasizes power and emphasizes skill . . .
"The skill of Boxing is the skill of a highly trained nervous system, capable of instant reflex action; it is the skill of perfect balance and graceful efficient movement . . ." tercollegiate bout, and is not its objective."
Public sentiment against boxing in colleges, which did not consider this Preamble, grew in the late forties with the arrival of television. People saw the sport on the professional level, coach Lamarr explained, and thought that all boxing was like that.
If Harvard were to take the initiative now and reinstitute boxing as an Ivy League sport as it appears it could do, it would not be strictly against past University policy. In the five years following its inception in 1930, the Harvard Boxing team developed into the most powerful squad in the East, recording an undefeated season in 1935 with one tie against Yale. The victories included semi-professional Virginia and Penn as opponents. Only once in six matches could the boxers defeat Yale, however.
Yale Scoring Questioned
The meet with the Elis at the end of the one undefeated season, which marred the Crimson's record, raised the sport's only real problem in its brief span. A protest by Harvard which followed the contest over the Eli's method of scoring prevented the teams from meeting the following year, the last year of boxing at the College.
Harvard may, in fact, be regarded as a foster parent of intercollegiate boxing. It began in 1920 when the Crimson's famous football Coach, Dick Harlow, was beginning his career at Pennsylvania. At the time water gun fights and dormitory riots were supposedly a fad at this Ivy university and Harlow suggested intercollegiate boxing as a possible alternative to the disturbances. The story is, of course, that the idea worked and an interest in the sport replaced the dormitory fights. At any rate, the first college meet was held at Penn against Colgate in 1920.
Boxing team promoters at the College today reason that if the sport is acceptable, as the intramural tournament each March indicates, and if it is not against University policy to sponsor a team, then "Why not boxing?" According to the newly-formed boosting committee, the answer, which must come from the Committee on Athletics, may be available next month.
A team, if the sport were revived, would then be ready in December for its first season since 1937.
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