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Bell to ring anew for Golden Gloves boxing in Memphis

Anchored in Memphis for 35 years, the Mid-South Golden Gloves will return next month after a 50-plus year absence.

Hosted in North Little Rock, Arkansas since 1990 after a 19-year stay in Jackson, Tennessee, the high-profile regional boxing event box is coming back through a collective effort anchored by the City of Memphis Office of Youth Services, the division that debuted Boxing At The Pipkin as another way to reach area youth.

The two-day event is set for July 9-10 at the Hickory Hill Community Center, with the Pipkin building still in use for COVID-19 vaccinations. Doors will open at 5 p.m., with the bell ringing at 6 p.m. for the first bouts. Admission will be $10.

“Yes, the Memphis Office of Youth Services is bringing this Golden Gloves event to the city of Memphis,” beamed Ike Griffith, the office’s director, in an interview with The New Tri-State Defender. 

Ike Griffith (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

This is in conjunction with Mayor Jim Strickland and the Memphis Office of Youth Services presents Boxing At The Pipkin (initiative). I always want to try to keep that alive and well so people know the connection.”

The 2019 Boxing At The Pipkin series grew out of an alliance initially powered by former CDA Security founder and one-time policeman Clift Dates, the Memphis Boxing Group, LLC, Battlefields of Life Foundation, the Restoration House Boxing Academy, the Afro-American Police Association, Youth Services and The New Tri-State Defender.

The events drew capacity crowds. The next year, the pandemic weighed in, forcing the series into a holding pattern. During the timeout, the Restoration House’s Pete Mitchell, a former boxer, approached Griffith with an idea.

“He said, ‘What’d you think about getting the Golden Gloves?’ I said, ‘Man, I would love it. … That would be ideal for us to have this as a prelude to going back to the Pipkin Building once this pandemic is over.”

Mitchell estimated the participation of about 60 boxers.

Pete Mitchell (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

“We’re going to probably have 300 or 400 people here from out of town, I would think. … They’re giving it to us for two years. So, we’re thinking we’re just real fortunate to land the Golden Gloves.”

Mitchell’s connections were key, particularly his link to Mike Rodgers, president of the Mid-South Golden Gloves. Rodgers said adjustments related to the pandemic opened an opportunity window.

“We are excited to be bringing the tournament back (to Memphis),” Rodgers said.

“They always say Elvis Presley was the King of Rock and Roll. Well, I can tell you this: the Golden Gloves is the King of amateur boxing. 

“And with that being said, the King is coming back July 9th and 10th for some of the best amateur boxing for Memphis, Tennessee.”

Some of the “very best quality boxers” in Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi will compete in the regional for an opportunity to compete in the National Golden Glovers in Tulsa, Oklahoma August 9-14, said Rodgers.

Mike Rodgers (Courtesy photo)

Looking beyond the event, Rodgers said through the Golden Gloves, “We not only make good athletes, but we make good people and good educated people that come out and go into society.”

In furtherance of that aim, underway are plans for an education scholarship, he said.

Former Mayor Dr. Willie W. Herenton, a former Golden Gloves boxer, has agreed to help promote the return to Memphis, largely at the behest of Mitchell, a longtime associate.

“When we were growing up, if you were an amateur boxer and happened to be Black, you could not enter the Golden Gloves competition, which was typically held in Chicago because it was segregated,” Herenton recalled. 

“The White fighters, once they won the championships in Memphis, they could go directly to Chicago, St. Louis, the next round of competition. “But if you were Black, we had to go and win at least two other championships in tough competition either in St. Louis, Paducah, Kentucky and you had to go through Jackson, Tennessee to win the AAU. So we had to jump a lot of hurdles in order to enter the Golden Gloves competition in Chicago.”

Bringing the Golden Gloves to Memphis in 2021 is a great idea, he said.

“Boxing contributed to our development as boys to men. That’s how I learned to become competitive, have good self-esteem. … Pete has zeal for this stuff (amateur boxing). … I hope it works. I’m going to help him promote it.”

For Griffith, the return of the Golden Gloves is a key step toward an initial Boxing At The Pipkin goal, establishing a boxing team to represent Memphis. And it’s in keeping with his overall focus for serving youth through the Office of Youth Services.

We’re losing too many. … You got to keep them engaged, you got to keep them involved and you got to come up with innovative ideas and program that will keep them busy.”

As for the return of Boxing At The Pipkin, Griffith said, “We’re looking for it to come back after the Southern Heritage Classic. We’re going to try and do a show maybe sometime in November, if at all possible.”


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