Known as the "ambassador of amateur boxing" around the world, Emerson Smith, the former Navy boxing coach, received his just due last weekend in Concord, Calif., when he was inducted into the USA Boxing Hall of Fame.
Formerly known as the U.S. Amateur Boxing Federation, USA Boxing is the governing body of non-professional boxing. Smith wasinducted at the organization's annual convention, and it was a big moment for the 71-year-old of Annapolis.
"It was quite a surprise, quite a thrill," said Smith, who is thenational safety chairman for the organization and is the pioneer of the thumbless glove and headgear for boxers.
Smith normally attends the annual convention and was aware that he was under considerationfor the Hall of Fame when he got out on the West Coast for the event.
"They never decide on who goes in until you get there, and it was great to go in with so many friends there," said Smith.
Locally,Navy's head boxing coach Jim McNally and his assistant Ron Stutzman were among the many friends on hand. And Smith has a multitude of friends on the 57 USA Boxing committees across the country.
His name and his contributions are synonymous with amateur boxing.
"It's his continuous contributions to the safety of the sport that played thebiggest part in his being inducted," said McNally, who followed Tom Virgets as Navy head coach in 1987.
Virgets coached one year afterSmith and these days is the head trainer for up-and-coming heavyweight Tommy "Duke" Morrison.
Smith was Navy's boxing coach for 27 years, retiring in 1985. He started at Navy as an assistant coach to twolegends, Ben Carnevale in basketball and Tony Rubino in boxing. Smith succeeded Rubino.
In his 27-year run, Smith produced seven national champions, 11 second- and third-team All-Americans.
Among the national champs of yesteryear were Sheldon Redden (172 pounds), Stan O'Connor (180), Mory Nixon (118), Dick Hoffman (165), Will Ervin (155), Kendall Switzer (147) and Ken McDonald (heavyweight).
Redden was a three-time national champion under Smith, while O'Connor was the first Midshipman to ever cop a national crown, and Hoffman was the last Smith-coached boxer to do so (1984).
Those guys got to compete on the national level because of Smith's efforts in organizing such competition.
Smith came to Navy with a background in basketball andtrack, but boxing soon became his passion. A native of Ohio, Smith attended Geneva College in Pennsylvania and graduated from Kent State University (Ohio).
His coaching career began at Easton High on theEastern Shore, and he moved up to Washington College. Basketball andtrack were the sports he coached, but he got a good taste of the pugilistic sport under one of the all-time legends during World War II.
The great Gene Tunney was the head boxing coach at Bainbridge Naval Base in Maryland and needed an assistant.
"I applied and got thejob because of my background in physical education," said Smith.
Smith helped Tunney put on boxing shows in the South Pacific for a couple of years, and at Pearl Harbor branched out in other sports, coaching such baseball greats as Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals, Johnny Mize and Phil Rizzuto of the New York Yankees, Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians; football player Charlie Jones and tennis star Bobby Riggs.
In his early years at Navy under Rubino, Smith got to coach plebe boxing, battalion boxing in the fall and the highly competitive Brigade Open during the winter months.
By 1975, Navy had a college team that battled other universities throughout the country. The Mids boxed in the Northeast Conference that included Delaware, Fairleigh Dickinson, St. Francis of Pennsylvania, Temple, Virginia, West Chester and Villanova.
During the Smith era, Navy fighters competed in the nationals in Berkley, Calif.; Reno, Nev., West Chester andat the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Smith always referred to the sportas "not varsity, not club, just in a bracket all by itself," and that still stands today. Then as now, the Falcons of the Air Force Academy dominated the competition at the nationals, especially when they play host to it in their nose-bleed altitude.
Along the way, Smith constantly was looking for ways to improve the safety of the sport tohelp shed some of its negative image.
"There are no more injuriesin boxing than there are in football, lacrosse and other sports," contends Smith, who still gives safety clinics throughout the country, his most recent a couple of weeks ago at Marquette University in Michigan.
Safety clinics have become Smith's calling card around the world. He has given them in Europe as well.
It's always been Smith's contention that the elimination of injuries in sports is impossible, but decreasing the seriousness of injuries is not. Thus, he pioneered the thumbless glove and led the crusade to make headgear mandatoryfor amateurs.
Both safety measures developed at Navy under the direction of Smith became mandatory in 1986.