William Rowe Selvage, 78, amateur boxing champion


William "Billy" Rowe Selvage, who while at City College captured two scholastic boxing titles and two regional amateur championships, died Sunday of heart failure at Keswick Multi-Care Center in North Baltimore.

Mr. Selvage, 78, who lived in Northeast Baltimore most of his life, began his boxing career in 1936 at age 16, training at the old Canton Sports Club in addition to fighting for his high school.

He fought as a lightweight and was known for his quick feet, shifty moves and supreme confidence. He also packed a powerful right punch.

"He was the kind of fighter that every opponent had to be wary of because he could beat you in lots of ways," said Leonard Shultz, a friend who saw several of Mr. Selvage's bouts in the late 1930s.

While in high school, Mr. Selvage won four championships: two Baltimore scholastic awards and two South Atlantic Amateur Athletic Union titles. He won his first two championships by defeating seven opponents in four days.

On opening night of the 1936 AAU tournament, he defeated three opponents.

"He was one of the greatest amateurs ever to fight out of Maryland," said Ray H. Leonard Jr., of the Maryland Boxing Hall of Fame and past president of the Veteran Boxers Association Inc. "He was very colorful."

Mr. Selvage won many bouts while at City College during his sophomore and junior years.

"They wouldn't let him box as a senior," said daughter Rosalie Burns of Baltimore. "They considered him too dangerous for the kids in the school league and said that he couldn't fight."

Mr. Selvage turned professional in 1938, forgoing a chance to make the 1940 Olympic team. He fought in more than 30 fights during his career, losing one and having another end in a draw.

For his efforts, he amassed only $950, from which he spent about half on manager and gymnasium fees.

One of his big paydays was a $50 purse in New York. But the earnings were quickly spent: $32 for train fare for him and his brother; $10 for hotel and meals; $5 to be licensed to fight in New York; $8 for handlers while in New York.

After retiring from boxing in 1940, Mr. Selvage worked for the city in the purchasing bureau. He retired in 1981.

He was a member of the Masonic Lodge and belonged to Knockout Veteran Boxers Association Inc., Ring 101. He was unanimously inducted into the Maryland Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993.

Mr. Selvage married the former Blanche Montgomery in 1940; she died in 1963.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include a son, William R. Selvage Jr. of Glen Burnie; another daughter, Anita Fincham of Port Charlotte, Fla.; a sister, Lorraine Silbersack of Bel Air; three grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

Services were held yesterday.

Pub Date: 3/26/98

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