Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Boxing interest has waned but OLOR show lives on

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions


Gather around my rocking chair, boys and girls, and Uncle Jeff will tell you a story about an era a long, long time ago when the sport of boxing was huge.

Casual fans knew the names of the top boxers at the time. Ali. Frazier. Foreman. Leonard. Duran. Hearnes. Norton. Hagler. Tyson. Spinks. Another Spinks.

Even the next level – the Quarrys and the Wepners of the world had some name recognition.

People thirsted to find out who was going to win matches. And, boys and girls, before the invention of Pay Per View, people would go to movie theaters to watch closed-circuit broadcasts of big fights.  I once saw a closed-circuit Tyson fight at what used to be known as the Rosemont Horizon and it drew a huge crowd.

Now? Well, I can name Floyd Mayweather and and Manny Pacquiao. They are fighting in a huge bout coming up May 2 in a match that can do more than $300 million in Pay Per View sales for a match that is about three or four years too late. So boxing is not completely dead.

I think Roy Jones, Jr. is still fighting even though he is closer to becoming a senior.

The heavyweight division has some big Russian guys, I think. But I would have to Google that and get back to you on that.

After that? I can’t help ya. I just don’t know many of the elite current fighters any more.

Ultimate fighting and even professional wrestling has helped the short attention span generation turn away from the sweet science.

But there is a pocket in our area where every year you can find boxing a boxing card taking place.

The Our Lady of the Ridge boxing show is in its 53rd year gets rolling at 7 p.m. at 10820 S. Oxford in Chicago Ridge. The doors open at 6 p.m.

Kids from kindergarten through sixth grade from the area will put on the gloves and head gear and box.

For those who feel a little weird about seeing little kids fight, ring announcer Don Pratl said that it’s not a violent event.

“Yes, we’ve had some kids get sick in the ring and we may have had a few bloody noses, but that’s it,” he said. “There is a difference between boxing and fighting and for the last couple of months, we’ve been teaching these kids how to box. We work on sticking and moving and we match the kids up as evenly as we can.

“There have been times when we’ve had to tell some kids they can’t participate because they are too big or too small.’’

Pratl said he was a Golden Gloves boxer growing up and has been a ring announcer for this event for decades.  

He said that no matter how much other sports have gained in popularity and how much boxing has declined, boxing purists like himself will continue to embrace it.

“Boxing can never be replaced,” he said. “The MMA or Ultimate fighting – that’s what happens in the streets, not the ring. Those are entertainment events. Boxing is a sport.’’

Pratl remembers the days when the OLOR event would have beer and smoking in the gym. Those days are gone, but there is still an old-fashioned atmosphere surrounding the event.

“Fathers, sons, cousins and neighbors all come back to talk about the good old days,” Pratl said.

This also serves as a fundraiser for the school and its athletic department.

(SUBHEAD --) Remembering the ‘big guy’

The death of Minnie Minoso this weekend (see editorial page) overshadowed the death of another local legend, coach Gordie Gillespie. Gillespie had success just about everywhere he went including Joliet Catholic, Lewis University and the University of St. Francis. He coached football, basketball and baseball and is in a whole bunch of Halls of Fame.

Eerily, I saw a big painting in homage to Gillespie on late Saturday afternoon at Lewis and I wondered where the coach was and how he was doing. That night, he died.

Gillespie knew so many people and didn’t always remember names so I (and probably a million other dudes) became known as the “big guy’’ whenever he would see me. He once spoke at a coaching class I took and his booming voice needed no microphone. He was funny, entertaining and wise.

My friend, also known as “big guy’’ to Gillespie, attended St. Francis many moons ago and would remember seeing Gillespie standing on top of a desk and enthusiastically bellow to students in whatever class it was he was teaching.

People have millions of funny Gillespie stories and quotes but my favorite quote was one he said on a practice field when he was dressing down a player. He hollered: “If you don’t get this play right, I’m going to trade you for a dog and then shoot the dog!”

Maybe PETA members won’t appreciate that line, but it still makes me laugh.

Rest in peace, big guy.