Blood, Sweat . . . Mascara

March 17, 1995|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Sun Staff Correspondent

FLUSHING, N.Y. -- Fresh from the ring and still short of breath, the Golden Gloves winner, in regulation black satin Everlast trunks, was exultant:

"Awesome. Awesome. This is the best rush in the whole world."

And then Kathleen Collins, 23, ran a hand through her hair -- blond highlights matted with sweat -- and struggled out of her molded plastic breast protector.

"I really feel like a great fighter right now," Ms. Collins said.

She'd never had the chance before. No women had, not once in the 68-year tradition of New York's vaunted Golden Gloves amateur boxing tournament.

But Wednesday night, Ms. Collins and seven other women, ages 16 to 32, took their places in the ring in a Queens high school gym filled with 2,000 cheering fans and made history in the New York regional quarterfinals.

Amateur women have boxed in a few other Golden Gloves competitions around the country. But New York's is said to be the oldest. And the women who boxed there Wednesday put their names alongside such New York Golden Gloves heroes as Floyd Patterson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Emile Griffith and Riddick Bowe. The finalists will fight in Madison Square Garden next month.

Now the Golden Gloves' hallowed list of contenders includes Peggy Donovan-Ward, wife and mother of a 3-year-old; Taneasha Harris, a 16-year-old honor roll student; and Christine Bruno, who scored the first Golden Gloves knockout of a woman with a shot to the chin that landed Alison Smythe flat on her back in the center of the ring.

The women and novice men fought three two-minute rounds. Older men fought three three-minute rounds.

Not everyone thought this was such a great advance for American civilization. Gene Murtagh, 26, disapproved on unabashedly sexist grounds:

"Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice," said Mr. Murtagh, a Pepsi distributor from Queens. "They shouldn't get their ass kicked."

Some in the audience apparently didn't even know women would be on the card. One man thought the first two, their heads swaddled in protective helmets that covered their hair, were just small men.

"What do we got here?" he shouted in disgust as the women entered the ring, dancing and shadow boxing. "Featherweights? god, go eat something."

And if there were cynics in the crowd who came looking for a lascivious freak show -- mud wrestling, perhaps? -- they were disappointed. These boxers expected to be taken seriously.

Many of the women say they got into the sport as just another form of fitness training, then found they were good at it and went looking for a place to test themselves. What they showed spectators in the two-tone green Holy Cross High School gym was that women box like, well, boxers.

Most in the crowd approved.

When Lisa Long, a 25-year-old Staten Islander in a yellow T-shirt, kept fighting despite the blood pouring from her nose, the crowd stood for the first time all night to cheer her on.

"Yell-O," they chanted, calling her by the color of her shirt and stomping on the gym floor in tribute to her gutsiness. "Yell-O."

Blood was smeared down her face, across her shirt, onto the shoulders of her opponent, Taneasha Harris. Droplets of blood glistened in the harsh light as they flew across the ring. Ms. Long kept punching, though she looked exhausted, until referee Frank Martinez stopped the fight in the third round.

"They gave more than 100 percent," Mr. Martinez said later. "I felt proud to be up there with them."

A few states sanction professional women's bouts, and Ms. Collins, who now develops photos in a one-hour shop, said she's considering turning pro herself.

"This woman thing is all new and you don't get a chance to RTC compete," she said. "I knew it was going to feel great. I didn't know it would feel this great."

Her opponent, Katya Bankowsky, had landed a punch "right in my mouth," Ms. Collins said.

But she didn't stop to think about it. "I was taught to go in there and be a machine, not feel anything," Ms. Collins said. "So I was a machine. It's like fear checked out. Fear left the building."

"This is serious," said Dave "Scooter" Honig, a former Golden Gloves champ who now coaches both men and women boxers. "This is broken noses and cut lips and lost teeth."

What's so great about that?

Ms. Bankowsky, an independent television commercial and film producer who boxes at 139 pounds, can explain:

"It's changing history," Ms. Bankowsky said. "It's the first time women are being accepted in boxing, and it's going to change the way people think about women's athletics."

She was standing in a Holy Cross corridor that was being used as a staging area for the women and their entourages. Some of the boxers were clean-scrubbed. Some wore mascara and lipstick. Some had long, polished fingernails and Farrah Fawcett hair-dos. Stereotypes were collapsing.

John Mulcahy, who oversees the Golden Gloves tournament for its sponsor, the New York Daily News, admitted the women weren't what he expected.

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