In The Ring

BY Skip Maloney

Any extraordinary convergence of time place and circumstance will inevitably exhibit evidence of that moments history the inauguration of a nations first African-American president for example or the election of a states first female governor. Or as historically relevant here the first Southeast Coast Regional Silver Gloves boxing tournament (age 15 and under) ever held in the city of Wilmington (at the National Guard Armory on Carolina Beach Road this past January 8-10).

No matter which way you turn Wilmingtons boxing history revolves around a man by the name of Sherriedale Morgan. Evidence of his influence filled the armory that housed this years Silver Gloves regional competition and touched the five Wilmington boxers who competed.

These days in the living room of his Monkey Junction home though the 75-year-old Morgan struggles out of an easy chair with the aid of a cane he looks capable of stepping back into the ring at his flyweight level. He lays down the cane for a moment ducking his head behind his left-handed boxing stance and demonstrates bobbing and weaving a bit his movements slow but remarkably precise. He parries a slow-moving left jab directed at his jaw by a visitor and with a quick movement of his hand counters with a jab of his own talking teaching. He laughs happy to be back on his feet doing what hes done best for most of his life. He reaches back to pick up the cane and points it at the wall in front of him.

“Thats me at the Pan-American games ” he says tapping a framed 1955 photograph and commemorative display of him at the age of 21 poised in the ring ready to do battle in the games that would crown him Pan-American champion of the Army team. The wall is filled from corner to corner nearly ceiling to floor with medals photographs and published newspaper articles.

Known to most as The Coach Morgan was born in 1934 in Flint Michigan. Two years after winning the Amateur Athletics Unions boxing championship in 1952 Morgan joined the Army. While working as a cook at the Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco he got into something of a tussle which brought him to the attention of his superiors particularly those who ran the Armys boxing team.

“One of the people up there got kind of smart and I had to drop a straight left hand and a right hook on him ” he recalls. “Word got around that you dont mess with me.”

Upon re-enlistment and a switch to infantry Morgan came to Fort Bragg where some friends talked him into boxing for the Army. He went on to win the Army Championship and then to train other boxers for the Armys team. In the mid-1970s that team came to Wilmington on a fishing trip.

“Thats how it got started ” says Yvonne Morgan Sherriedales wife of nearly 30 years. “A delegation from the city of Wilmington went up there to Fort Bragg to talk to him.”

They asked Morgan to run a boxing program for the city of Wilmington and in 1974 the old firehouse on N. Fourth Street was transformed into a rudimentary not to mention cramped gym that became known as the Wilmington Boxing Center. From there and later when the city built a facility on S. 10th Street and called it the Sherriedale Morgan Boxing and Fitness Center Morgan trained hundreds of boxers. Deirdre Fabian who would go on to win the US Golden Gloves Championship in 1999 and professional (29-0) heavyweight boxer Donnell Holmes who will if all goes according to plan fight Chris Arreola on HBO in late March or early April of this year were two of Morgans boxers.

“I was a crazy country boy ” says Holmes of the training that began for him in 1993. “Coach back then used to do a lot of stuff to try and discourage people cause he knew that if they kept coming back then theyd really want to stay.”

For weeks and weeks Holmes would travel an hour or so from Ivanhoe North Carolina to train at the Wilmington Boxing Center and Morgan wouldnt let him spar with anybody. Every day Holmes would ask and every day Morgan would tell him “No. Youre not ready.” When Coach finally relented Holmes learned his first real lesson.

“That guy beat me so bad that there was blood on everything I had on from my tank-top down to my shoes ” Holmes recalls. “I left and thought about never going back. But when I came back Coach knew I was serious.”

Deryll McCaskill another Morgan boxer whose son Robert was among the five Wilmington boxers competing at the Silver Gloves in January remembers that attitude well. While at first he didnt understand it he uses it himself these days as he continues the work and work ethic ingrained in him through Morgans training.

At the turn of the century Coach was moving into his mid-60s and backing away from a lot of the activities that had engaged him for the past 26 years. When the city built its new boxing and fitness center in 2000 and named it in his honor McCaskill became one of its volunteers while another Morgan mentee Andre Thompson became the centers recreation supervisor.

In the years that followed Thompsons duties focused on the boxing side of the centers business which kept him on the road a lot traveling with boxers to competitions throughout the Southeast. His absence combined with the fuel costs of the extensive travel involved became more than the city felt it could reasonably absorb.

While appreciative of Morgans contributions over the years as evidenced by the new centers name and initially supportive of Thompsons efforts with the competitive boxing portion of the centers programs the city of Wilmington also wanted to draw more members of the community with an overall fitness approach to the centers activities. The city decided to end the boxing program and its official status as a component of North Carolinas state boxing programs.

In August 2007 the city removed the boxing ring from the center though it maintained and eventually purchased new equipment that allowed boxing exercises to continue. The competitive boxing programs which had gotten their start at the center moved into the hands of Sherriedale Morgans students. Thompson went on to supervise the boxing portion of a mixed martial arts school called Evolution in Wrightsville Beach while McCaskill established a nonprofit boxing program originally called the 23rd Psalm Boxing Academy which would go on to inherit much of the used boxing equipment from the citys programs.

Originally operating out of facilities on N. Third Street McCaskills program was recently offered a lease by the city to operate out of a city-owned building at 812 Anderson Street where two weeks after the Silver Gloves competition McCaskill now doing business as Wilmington Coastal Boxing officially opened the doors.

Five Wilmington boxers stepped into the ring during the Silver Gloves regional tournament. All five were trained by men whod been mentored by Morgan. Two of them brothers Kashif and Aquil El-Amin were trained by Thompson. Two were trained by McCaskill his son Robert and Travis Harrelson. The fifth Rashad Hayes came out of a program called the Port City Warriors where he trained with Mike Scott yet another Morgan student. While none advanced to the Silver Gloves finals held in Missouri in February each in his own way in that particular convergence of time place and circumstance stepped into the ring with the history of Sherriedale Morgans training very much in evidence.

“The most important skills are conditioning and learning the basic fundamentals of boxing ” says Morgan turning back to the commemorative wall in his living room.

“And you have to listen ” adds Yvonne “because if you dont listen to your trainer or your coach you arent going to learn anything.”

“Skill will beat power every time ” Morgan says his eyes continuing to roam the wall the pictures of boxers that had been in his care. “Stronger is not necessarily better.”

He thinks for a minute and the room goes quiet. He nods his head toward the wall finished for now with its cascade of memories and turns with a final thought.

“And youve got to have the heart.”


Silver Gloves

The annual Silver Gloves Boxing Championship which has been held since 1978 is an amateur boxing competition for boys and girls up to the age of 15. At the age of 16 competitive boxers move into Gold Glove competition the Olympics or professional boxing. Boxers compete in 22 weight classes ranging from 60 pounds to 201 pounds. In 2008 more than 8 000 boxers competed nationwide. Regional competitions divided into eight regions take place throughout the year culminating in finals that in 2009 were held in Independence Missouri. North Carolina is one of eight states (including the District of Columbia) in Region 3 (Southeast Coastal). Approximately 1 000 boxers competed in Region 3 this time around including more than 200 boxers at the recent qualifying event here in Wilmington in January. A total of 34 boxers from Region 3 advanced to the finals including two boxers from Charlotte Demarcus Alston (12) and Mckell Collins (15).