Around Louisiana: Baton Rouge/Plantation Country

PROFILE

BATON ROUGE’S BOXING HEYDAY

The sport of boxing dates back to ancient Greece; it became an event in the Olympic Games in 688 B.C. It prevailed all through the time of the Roman Empire in popularity; Roman-style dust-ups, of course, were sometimes fought to the death. With the fall of the Roman Empire, boxing disappeared for centuries, only to re-emerge in the 1700s in Great Britain. It has remained popular since. Stretching all the way down the long corridor of centuries from Greece, boxing arrived in the Bayou State and had its heyday here in the 20th century. Author Don Landry wants you to know the Louisiana side of boxing.

Landry, who was the basketball coach at Nicholls State University for 13 years, has written a book called Boxing: Louisiana’s Forgotten Sport, a fascinating history of both high school and college boxing preserved in print so it would not be lost in the swamp mist of time. According to Landry, boxing on the high school and collegiate level was very popular in Louisiana from 1929 to 1958. Landry, self-described as a “lousy, former 90-pound” pugilist who feinted, jabbed and right-hooked around the ring at the old Cathedral High in Lafayette, is now retired. A few years ago, he attended an annual boxers’ reunion in Crowley and was dismayed that nothing was being done to preserve their history.

In a story filed on sportsnola.com, Landry says that he finally teamed with the reunion co-chairman, a gentleman named Poochie East, and efforts began in earnest to research and find as many details as possible regarding Louisiana’s pugilistic past. They  discovered a  bounty of artifacts – photographs, records, newspaper articles. Their combined work also helped right a few wrongly reported facts.

The book reveals that in the 29 years the sport was at its pinnacle, 12 high school boxers were four-time state champs. LSU won the 1949 national boxing championship. Each decade seemed to usher in a new high school boxing era: The ‘30s were dominated by Baton Rouge High, Catholic High and Istrouma; in the ‘40s, Plaquemine High achieved five state titles; New Iberia High won an uncanny eight state titles in the ‘50s. On the collegiate level, eight institutions of higher learning had boxing teams: Louisiana Tech, LSU, Tulane, McNeese, Southwestern Louisiana and Northeastern Louisiana, Loyola and Centenary.

According to Landry, boxing was the second-most-popular sport (after football) in the state and bouts played out to capacity crowds.
Landry’s life and career have centered around athletics. He was the assistant basketball coach at Louisiana Tech under Scotty Robertson before becoming head coach at Nicholls. Eventually becoming the commissioner of the Southland Conference, he once again advanced to serve as the executive director of the National Cutting Horse Association. He wound up working for a future president of the United States, one George W. Bush, as director of special projects for the Texas Rangers.

The year 1958 ushered in the decline of prep bayou boxing.

“Requiring coaches to teach, trouble finding certified coaches, not enough teams” are all reasons that Landry suggested for the decline of the sport.

His work to preserve boxing’s history drew attention; Louisiana State Museum interviewed some of the 200 remaining former boxers, while Louisiana Public Broadcasting created a program about boxing.

As pugnacious as a fighter going the distance, Landry achieved what he set out to do. He has given us a fascinating chronicle that shows another side to Louisiana’s love of sports while  honoring its participants and unveiling yet another invaluable dimension of our own history.
To purchase a copy, contact Don Landry at (225) 766-7349, 836 Highland Knoll Court, Baton Rouge, LA 70810 or werback@cox.net.

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