Back Then

Photograph courtesy UR Rare Books and Special Collections

In the early 1930s, Richmond College’s athletics program was mired in monotony, limited to the “big four”: football, baseball, basketball, and track. Few other athletic options were offered. In March 1932, that changed, as the athletic and interfraternity councils announced an unprecedented expansion of intramural athletic programs that included the formation of a boxing team. There was a palpable boxing fervor sweeping the nation, and Virginia had recently legalized collegiate pugilism.

By February 1933, boxing had become a phenomenon on campus. Coach Paddy Mills was attracting between 35 and 50 men to daily practices, a number that The Collegian reported was expected to swell even higher. A March 1934 Collegian editorial explained that the rise of boxing was not unique to UR: “Boxing as a college sport has made such a rapid rise during the last few years that in most large schools it has topped all other branches of athletics except football.”

But boxing’s knockout came as hard and fast as its rise. In November 1935, whispers of concern emanated from the athletics department. The Collegian reported that the lack of boxing candidates was the “fly in the soup” of new coach Russell Crane. For a boxing squad that — in spite of its popularity — struggled to win, the decrease in student interest was devastating. The team went winless in the 1935 season, including a 7-1 shellacking by Duke in the season opener. The team struggled again the next season, going 1-4, which yearbook writers attributed to the lack of conditioning of Willis “Pee Wee” Wills, who was considered one of the best 115-pound fighters in Virginia.

By 1937, the end was near.

“The prospects for the 1937 Richmond boxing team are very gloomy indeed,” The Collegian reported. “Unless more interest is shown in boxing in the future, the whole schedule will be cancelled, and boxing will be a thing of the past at the University of Richmond.” Though sufficient interest was eventually garnered to save the season, it was a mediocre 1-4 season that the Richmond boxers might have rather forgotten.

In 1938, the University announced that intramural wrestling would replace the defunct boxing program. The Collegian lauded the decision, arguing that wrestling was an important part of a well-rounded student’s academic experience: “The ability to handle yourself should be as much a part of your education as the calculus and what have you.”

After four tumultuous years, the boxing team disappeared, but the specter of the program would continue to haunt campus. In 1940, students hung a petition in the school store asking that the program be restored, and in 1948, Crane announced his intention to rebuild the program. These efforts proved fruitless. The boxing team was down for the count.