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LOVERRO: Behind Bobby Magruder, D.C. boxing scene lives on

- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Bobby Magruder fought in the days when legends were born in amateur boxing, when the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns came through the ranks.

Those were the days when amateur boxing had a place in the sports landscape — the days when people followed who the next boxing superstars would be.

It's when boxing had a prominent place in American sports — seemingly a bygone era. Boxing barely registers a pulse on the daily sports agenda in this country today, done in by corruption, chaos and competition from the new kid on the block, mixed martial arts.

Do kids today even know boxing exists? They do in the Washington metropolitan area, where amateur boxing is alive and well, thanks to people like Bobby Magruder, the head of local Golden Gloves boxing, who will be hosting the Maryland-D.C. championship finals Saturday night at the Greater Waldorf Jaycees Community Center in Waldorf, Md.

Remarkably, kids are still showing up in boxing gyms in Maryland, Washington and Virginia looking to be the next Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao.

Or maybe even Bobby Magruder, a four-time Washington Golden Gloves champion who fought Sugar Ray Leonard three times as an amateur, in battles that Leonard himself, who defeated Magruder all three times, called the most meaningful of his career.

"In later years, there would be famous tussles against such legends like Duran and Hearns and Hagler with much larger stakes, but no fight ever meant more to me than the triumph over Bobby Magruder," Leonard wrote in his book, "The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring."

"By defeating the man in D.C., I became the man, and if I could beat Bobby, I could beat anybody," Leonard wrote.

"We used to go to war," Magruder said, recalling the amateur showdowns. "We're friends to this day, though, and still play golf together."

Magruder fought out of the Hillcrest Height gym from 1967 to 1973, making it to the U.S. Olympics Trials in 1968 and 1972. He had 85 fights as a featherweight and lightweight, with a 73-12 record, with three of those losses to Leonard — two of them split decisions.

He might have been part of that glorious era of boxing that include Leonard, Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran if he had turned professional. But instead he went to work as a food clerk at Safeway. "I had to take care of family responsibilities," he said.

Boxing, though, remained part of Magruder's life. He trained fighters and stayed involved in amateur boxing. He worked in Golden Gloves with local boxing trainer Truman Tuttle, who ran the Golden Gloves organization until he passed away in 2007. Magruder took over as tournament director and the franchise delegate for the Washington Region Golden Gloves — which includes the territory of Maryland, the District, Virginia and the area in North Carolina east of Highway 220 in Raleigh.

Friday night, Magruder will be running the tournament where local fighters meet for the chance to move on to the regional finals April 26 and then the national Golden Gloves championship tournament in Las Vegas, where 10 champions from each of the 30 Golden Gloves regions fight to become national champion.

"We have had a lot of local fighters go on to become national champions and then turn pro, like the Peterson brothers (Anthony and Lamont, the 140-pound world champion), Mike Reed, Gary Russell, Demetrius Ballard ... we've had a lot of national champions," Magruder said. "We have a lot of good talent that comes out of this area."

Even though mixed martial arts has managed to capture the imagination of a generation of fight fans, Magruder's Golden Gloves program still brings kids in, and the program is growing.

"We put a lot of resources in the junior program (ages 8-16)," he said. "The kids are there, as long as the opportunities are there for them, and we offer those opportunities. The amateur coaches are amazing, and recently the D.C. Department of Recreation has really stepped up.

"We've grown 30 to 35 percent over the last four or five years," Magruder said. "It jumped 13 percent this year, and we've seen an increase each year, and we have had one of the largest turnouts in the Golden Gloves tournament. We have a great staff that helps create these opportunities."

For those kids who win Saturday night, Golden Gloves will pay their expenses and help them with equipment to move on to the regional and national tournaments.

"People still love amateur boxing," Magruder said. "They will come out and support it."

They do because Bobby Magruder, who Sugar Ray Leonard called "the man" when he was an amateur fighter, is still in the ring fighting for amateur boxing.

Thom Loverro is co-host of "The Sports Fix," noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com.

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