The knockout blow to Baltimore high school boxing

Baltimore Glimpses

May 24, 1994|By GILBERT SANDLER

TUESDAY, Feb. 15, 1938, was a day to be out cold. And that's exactly what happened that afternoon to one Robert Breslau, a young boxer from City College who was knocked out in a match by Poly student Herbert Gunther, the crack blocking back of the Poly football team and boxing champion of his weight class.

Breslau had been floored in a previous round of the match in the Poly auditorium, but the bell had saved him.

The next morning, Sun sports editor Jesse Linthicum wrote, "Robert Breslau went to bed early last night with pains in his head. A physician ordered him to stay there."

This was not the first knockout in the history of Baltimore high school boxing (though it was to be the last). There had been another one, earlier that same season, when Alvin Katz, City College middleweight, stopped Joseph Borgerding of Poly in the first round.

"Borgerding rushed his opponent at the outset," read a report of the match, "but Katz fought his way clear and began to pierce the Techman's awkward guard. With only a few seconds to go, Katz rocked his man with a flurry of punches and sent him down with a right cross. He rose before referee Charley Short counted the necessary 10, but he was groggy, and Short halted the bout."

The rough-and-tumble years of high school boxing in Baltimore were the late 1930s. The conference comprised five schools (all white, of course, since city schools were strictly segregated and interracial competition impossible) -- City, Poly, Southern, LTC Vocational and Forest Park. There were seven weight classes, from 105 pounds up to the heavyweight class -- 165 pounds and over.

Each of the schools was represented by scrappy fighters. There were William Selvage of City; Arthur Jeffra of Forest Park, brother of professional fighter Harry Jeffra; Peter Cole of Vocational, Carl Lehman of Southern. (Selvage had floored Jeffra in one of the fights, and when Jeffra rose at the count of nine, the referee stopped the bout and awarded it to Jeffra.)

But there wouldn't be a 1939 season for high school boxing in Baltimore.

Student Gunther's knockout by Robert Breslau struck a chord. A photo (since lost from the Sun library) of the unconscious fighter appeared in The Sun Feb. 16, 1938. It wasn't pretty. There lay young Breslau, face down on the canvas with the referee over him, counting. Some parents were outraged. The photo, combined with reports of unruly crowds at the boxing events, proved too much.

Linthicum reported that though he received numerous letters of protest, there were also defenders of high school boxing. He quoted from one letter: "We have many more players injured in high school football than in high school boxing." But Linthicum countered that there was "a vast difference between injuries received on the gridiron, like a sprained ankle, and head and facial injuries received in the ring."

Heated meetings among coaches, school executives and parents followed. There seemed to be a general consensus that a new plan was needed for governing boxing. Boxers' heads needed protection, and defense needed to be stressed.

But there was no next season. Linthicum put the force of The Sun behind a move to end the sport in city high schools. "There is much to be said against boxing in high school," he wrote, "but there is little to be said in favor of it." He said he hoped that if there were to be a next season, the boys would be taught "how to box and not how to fight."

But Gunther had delivered a knockout blow, not only to Breslau, but to boxing in city high schools. 7 . . . 8 . . . 9 . . . 10.

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