"Kid" Durning, the Armory's Fighting Demon

My dad was a big boxing fan. One of the earliest thing I recall was going on Friday nights to watch the fights on a television in the window of the local power company.  Later, before we finally got our own television, we went some Fridays to watch especially important boxing matches on a television at Wayne Stout's house on South College, a few blocks south of Jefferson Elementary.

With this introduction to boxing, I became a fan and wanted to be a boxer myself. So, the Christmas when I was in the third grade (1955), I got a new pair of boxing gloves. With those gloves, a swim suit, and dirty socks, I was ready for battle (see picture above).

In the third grade -- I had spent the second grade at Robert E Lee Elementary in Springdale --  I started going up the College Avenue hill from Jefferson Elementary to the gym of the National Armory to take part in the sports there, including boxing. I know it was the third grade because I occasionally got Mr. Trahan, my 3rd grade teacher, to give me a ride there.

I am not sure if the Armory gym served as a Boy's Club or whether the after-school program was  city-financed.  I just remember there were lots of boys there every day. One of them, I remember, was an older guy (probably a teenager) who wanted to be a boxer, and he would jog around the edges of the gym holding a stool in one arm that was extended to his front. It did not look like fun and I wondered why they would do that.

One of the activities at the gym for smaller kids like me -- one of its attractions -- was boxing instructions. So, I got a chance to learn the basics of pugilism and, after a while, thought I was pretty good. I was usually beating the boys I fought with ease. Then one day, Coach Joe Holt, who was working there, pulled me over and put me in the ring to fight a scrawny Black kid who was quite a bit smaller than me. I had never seen before (interesting that in 1955 the Armory sports programs were integrated but the grade schools were not).

About 30 seconds into the first round, I realized that I was outmatched. My opponent was must quicker than me and he hit harder than anyone I had ever boxed. When he popped me hard a couple of times, I started wondering when the round would be over.

By the end of the first round, I had had enough of this foolishness, but Coach Holt told me it was a two-round match and that I would continue. I guess he had seen me rough up some lesser opponents and wanted to let me experience such treatment myself. Or maybe it was a lesson in not quitting. I spent a miserable three minutes in the second round backpedaling, trying to minimize the damage to my body. When the fight was over, I was very happy that I still had all of my teeth, even though my dignity was badly bruised.

After that day I put my boxing gloves in the back of the closet and starting spending much more time in the Armory playing ping-pong.  

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