[Image by: Vovan Gord – Pexels]
“Football, Boxing Bout – Plus“
By BR Chitwood
My high school idol and best friend was a handsome guy and one of the most popular multi-sport players I had the pleasure of knowing during that time in my life, a valid ‘Natural’ at any sport in which he participated. He was a ‘Golden Gloves’ champion in his weight class. He was the star of our basketball team, a ‘blocking back’ on our single-wing football team, the same position I played on our team but could no way beat him out for the starting position. He carried a quiet, confident, friendly demeanor. There was no one who could dislike Ray Williams, and, when I left school after graduation to join the US Navy, I would never see him again. After discharge from the Navy, I never returned to the area, and there is too much history to cover that ground.
Occasionally my mind goes off on these memory trips and inevitably I am reminded of a story connected to a way-station in my life. Today, my ‘grey matter’ takes me to Oak Ridge, Tennessee and a night when I fought in a ‘Lightweight’ boxing final at a community center in an Oak Ridge suburb called ‘Grove City’.
Ray Williams scheduled workouts for my final bout, went over some specific tips, like fighting out of a ‘clinch’, ‘feint moves’, what to watch for in the moves of my opponent, ‘jabs’ to set up a ‘haymaker’ – we reviewed everything we had practiced.
Friday’s ‘Fight Night’ was four hours away, and I was having stomach aches and sustained pains. Ray tried to talk me into cancelling the fight, but I argued it was just the days of training, the other qualifying fights to get to the finals, and, in truth, I didn’t want to be labeled a ‘quitter’!
I won the argument.
Ray was my ‘second’, and we both stepped into the ring at 8:00 PM. That long-ago Friday night. My stomach had settled a bit but a mild stir of pain was still there.
I knew the guy I was fighting, Ricky Rowe, knew he was good, knew I had to be at my best. We shook hands center-ring after instructions from the referee.
Back in my corner, Ray asks: “How’s the tummy, BR?”
“It’s okay, Ray. I’m ready when the bell rings.” I smiled.
The bell rang for Round 1.
Ray smiled, “Go get him, buddy. If your tummy gets in a bad place, I’ll throw in the towel.”
“No, No, Ray. I want this title. It’s not the ‘Golden Gloves’ but it’s important to me…” I tapped Ray gently on his right cheek, smiled, and skipped out to meet Ricky Rowe.
Ricky got the first blow, a hard right hand into my, yep, my tummy. The pain jerked my whole body, and I bent over for just a second, then advanced toward Ricky. Each step I took, the tummy ache fired up like a furnace in my middle.
The bell rang. Ricky and I went to our respective corners.
All in all, I got in some good jabs and one right cross that made Ricky cringe.
“How’s the tum-tum, BR?” asked Ray. “He slammed you pretty hard at the beginning of the round.”
While he rubbed me down and made me sniff a ‘yuck-yuck’ aroma, I told Ray I thought I was ahead after Round 1.
Round 2 started the way Round 1 started. Ricky got me with a feint and another hard shot to my middle, doubling me over. (What the hell! Did Ricky know about my stomach pain? He went for my middle a lot.)
The Ref rushed to see if I was going down, and I waved him away. “I’m fine, Ref,” I lied.
In my corner Ray had a look on his face…he matched the look with words:
“My eyes don’t lie, BR. Ricky got you good and hard at the beginning of that round…and, yeah, I know, you came back with some good shots yourself. Your stomach is my concern at the moment. If the pain persists, we need to call this off. Don’t play ‘hero’, BR.”
“No, Ray, it’s okay. Two rounds down…three to go. I can make it.”
Ray cocked his head and gave me a smile.
I returned his smile with my own.
Round Three bell rang, and I went a little faster to the center of the ring and caught Ricky with a sweeping right hand to his stomach as he was about to go again to my middle. I got in a hard one-two left and right to his jaws until he punched and shoved me into a neutral corner and caught me with a haymaker left to my stomach just as the closing Round Three bell rang.
Ray had a wrinkled brow and worried look. He started to come through the ropes and go toward the referee.
I grabbed Ray. “No, good buddy, don’t call it. Really, I believe I’m ahead in this bout, and I can dance around the ring for the next two rounds, land a few blows, and win this thing. Please, pal, don’t call the fight.”
“How’s your stomach, BR?” Ray asked, as though he could see the furnace raging in my stomach.
“There’s still a burning sensation, but I can make it, Ray. I’m sure other boxers, including you, Golden Glover, have fought bouts with some pain.” I gave him another soft tap with a glove as the bell for Round Four rang.
Rounds Four and Five passed much as the previous three passed.
I won the title, gave the trophy to Ray to hold for me. Ray saw the furnace-pain from my stomach coming up to my face, gave me a ‘winner’s hug’ and kudos. He drove me home, and I went quickly to bed.
The bed was no relief.
All night, my Mom tried remedy after remedy, but nothing helped. When Saturday morning came, Mom called our family doctor. He came to our house and determined after some testing that I needed to be in the hospital right away.
A few hours later, the doctor operated and cut out an enflamed Appendix the size of a chap stick tube.
Ray, if you are out there, you remain my idol…
We all make mistakes in life. Not staying in touch with friends of the past is likely my paramount mistake. I think of them quite often.
BR Chitwood – March 27, 2021
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