A golden era for gloves in town
In the 1950s, a young man by the name of Cassius Clay got his start in boxing.
Childhood troubles led a preteen Clay into the arms of a Louisville, Kentucky, police officer. And under the advice and, later, coaching of that policeman, Clay learned not only to use the ring as an outlet for emotion but to downright dominate within it.
Now internationally recognized as Muhammad Ali, an eternal embodiment of the game’s raw and physical influence on society, the late Clay was also just one of many fighters who drew the interest of Blue Earth’s Carl Germann.
In the same era that spawned Ali’s ascension, Germann was busy forging another boxing regimen in the Southern Minnesota communities of Faribault County. Tucked in a small-town sector of the Golden Gloves Association that no longer exists but once captivated audiences of thousands, the Blue Earth police chief was busy plugging youth from his own area into a sport that let them manage their aggression.
If kids were going to fight, he wanted them to do it in the ring.
Darrin Germann recalls hearing that exact sentiment from Carl, his grandfather. It was one that became ingrained from years of stories he heard repeatedly of Carl’s days coaching local amateur boxing in the ’50s and from tagging along to Fairmont matches that Carl helped judge.
“His thoughts were that he’d rather kids be fighting in the ring than getting into trouble on the streets,”?Darrin says. “I?think he took some kids that might’ve been going down the wrong road and brought them in.”
Holding practice at the town’s old light plant and in the basement of his police station, Carl began to organize his team, teaching his youngsters how to go blow for blow in the blur of hand-to-hand action. He began instructing them how to defend themselves, how to fight and how, maybe, to win in the process.
He rarely discussed his own boxing career, according to Darrin, and he even pushed his grandson away from taking up the hard-hitting hobby. But those kids he recruited, those boxers he bred, they were more than neighborhood bystanders-turned-amateur sluggers. They were undeniable byproducts of Carl’s adoration of the game.
And they were ultimately no slouches, either.
With a sponsorship from Blue Earth’s American Legion Post 89, Germann’s ever-expanding Golden Gloves group wasted no time churning out national contenders. Local training led to regional and statewide competition, and before long, rural teens like Easton’s Bobby Doyle and Blue Earth’s Pat Doocy were sparring in front of thousands in Minneapolis.
Doocy, one of a handful of BE title winners, went even beyond the Twin?Cities, vying for a trophy at Chicago’s Tournament of Champions in 1960. That competition often featured professional fighters and preceded Olympic tryouts.
“We had one of the best teams in the whole state,”?says Florin Jordahl, one of Doocy’s fellow boxers more than five decades ago.
Warranting thick headlines from the Star Tribune and even thicker crowds at the bouts themselves, Germann’s team suddenly resembled much more than a policeman’s collection of kids from around town. Absorbing fighters from Mankato, Albert Lea and plenty of other areas around the state, the program took on a life of its own.
“Blue Earth kind of became the hub for Southern Minnesota,”?Darrin says. “It was kind of like one big fraternity. It was a pretty big deal when it came to Golden Gloves, and people came many miles to the Blue Earth region for it.”
Miles of travel and an expanding roster did not mean Germann stopped using the sport as a tool for teaching youngsters, either.
“There were still some kids that were kind of wild,”?Jordahl recalled, “and Carl figured once they got in the ring and maybe got the tar beat out of them, they’d kind of settle down.”
The tough-love approach seemed to work. Just as it had during the Golden Gloves’ rise to prominence in town, it enabled Germann not only to stockpile talent for the ring but hopefully keep that talent contained in the ring.
“He was there for us,”?Jordahl says.
So much so that, during one trip to Minneapolis for a state tournament, Germann made a special stop in Mankato for a troubled, albeit welcomed, addition to the tourney team.
“We had to stop and pick up a guy out of jail to go with us,”?Jordahl says. “We got him and went to state, then brought him back.”
The jailhouse pickup was the peak of Germann’s unlikely weaving of boxing and law enforcement together, but it was also virtually an afterthought for a group that had teenagers squaring up with pros nearly double their age in the merciless constraints of the ring.
“I was boxing against guys who were 26, 27 years old,”?Jordahl says, peering at three championship trophies from his ’50s heyday.
Year after year and match after match, Germann’s connection to boxing to his youthful warriors grew stronger. Even after handing the coaching reins to Don Ficken, a fighter of Carl’s and a future police chief himself, Germann stayed knotted to the sport.
In the 1970s, he occupied Fairmont’s VFW, judging Golden Gloves contests before the amateur association fizzled out of the area in the ’80s. At home, after the infusion of household TVs stalled interest in live local fights, he marveled over the celebrity faces of boxing, from “Sugar”?Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns, who shared his left-handed swing, to the indubitably accomplished Ali.
The impact that Germann, once known purely for his role as a countryside police officer, had on the young men who endured and ultimately embraced his unconventional boxing team was equally as lasting.
When the veteran coach passed away in 1983, leaving behind herds of changed lives and the physical sport that furthered them, there was no shortage of respect for the job he had done, for the reputation he had built as a small-town Golden Gloves advocate and, more importantly, a positive influence.
“Pat Doocy came to his funeral,”?Darrin recalled, “and he pinned a Golden Gloves medal the medal he got at the Tournament of Champions in Chicago on my grandfather’s lapel.”
It was a small gesture, but it was a powerful one.
It was a statement. The young men Germann encountered and steered toward boxing may not have rivaled the notoriety of an Ali, who at the time of Germann’s passing had begun to adjust to retirement.
But they were young men whose lives were just as touched.
At that moment, Carl Germann was the real champion.