Going to the 1996 Olympics is the latest in a fistful of thrills for South Baltimore's Jodi Wingfield, a tough guy with a sense of humor who hit hard enough to make the Maryland Boxing Hall of Fame.
"This is in the top three or four in my life, up there with winning the Golden Gloves in 1977," Wingfield, 43, said by telephone from Atlanta. "Some things have happened to me that are nice, but this is a big one, baby."
Wingfield, a bridge inspector for the city of Baltimore, is not at the Olympics to compete. His light middleweight career ended more than a decade ago with an amateur record of 68-16 (37 KOs).
Wingfield's Olympic role is a small one: He's one of the guys who tapes the hands of fighters from 110 countries and keeps a close eye on them before the bouts, making sure they don't eat or drink anything after they've been tested for drugs, seeing to it that they get the right equipment and follow workout regulations.
But it's the Olympics nonetheless, and Atlanta is a long way from Warren Avenue in Locust Point, where the teen-age Wingfield was hanging out one cold afternoon with nothing better to do.
"This friend of mine said there was a gym in Glen Burnie where people were boxing," Wingfield said. "We went to a junior high and watched these guys. We thought we could do as well or better. And it only cost $3 a year for a boxing license."
Wingfield never parlayed that $3 into big title bout purses; in fact, he never even turned pro. But boxing changed the life of a guy who liked to play flag football wearing a World War I aviator's cap and has been known to show up in a tuxedo to shoot pool. Boxing gave Wingfield an identity.
In 1977, at 23, he was the eighth-ranked amateur light middleweight in the country while fighting out of Benny Trotta's gym on East Baltimore Street.
"When you see your name in the paper for a good reason, you like to see it more. They called me the 'Face of Stone' because guys would break their hands when they hit me," said Wingfield. "Somewhere along the line, you get the fight virus, you wanna hear the ring of the bell, the boos and the yeas. You want to hear them whisper about you."
It was Wingfield's willingness to give something back to the sport -- working as a referee and judge around the state -- that got him to the Olympics.
"My background as a fighter had a lot to do with it," said Wingfield, who has been volunteering to referee bouts at the Naval Academy.
Wingfield doesn't seem to mind that his limited role is outside the ring. "He's a kid in a candy store," said his wife Patricia.
He'll get to play in that store through Sunday, and it makes him feel good when the other fighters recognize him as he escorts them to and from the ring.
"When the Russians met me for the first time they looked at me and knew I was a fighter, they gave me more respect," said Wingfield. "If you know the game, you can tell by looking. I've had broken noses, a broken hand, broken cheek bones -- eight stitches here, nine stiches there."
He said: "The pleasure is worth the chance we take."
Pub Date: 7/31/96