McAlester City Boxing Champs

Winners of the 1947 McAlester City Boxing Tournament pose for a photo. Among those pictured is a young Don Vaughan, seen in the front row of fighters, second from the left.

McAlester Chief of Police Roy Anders and desk sergeant Tom Holleman founded the McAlester Boxing Club in the spring of 1947, and Don Vaughan was one of its earliest members. It is then that his boxing career began.

The club was started as a way to keep local boys occupied and keep them out of trouble.

“The club was a great thing to do. It kept us off the streets and kept us really busy,” former club member Jim Coxsey said.

Once a lot of boys started signing up, Anders and Holleman realized they would need some help juggling their law enforcement duties with the needs of the club. They were able to pull established coach J. W. “Jim” Crabtree from Eufaula, where he had built a very successful program with multiple champion boxers. He was previously president of the Oklahoma AAU in 1945 in addition to his coaching and teaching experience in Eufaula.

Tom McClenahan, a member of the club from the beginning, says Anders and Holleman gave Crabtree an office and job at the police station, but his main job was working on the boxing club. He didn’t make much money at first, but once the club began to gain traction and garner attention from all its success, the city loosened its purse strings and began to pay Crabtree a proper salary.

Eufaula and Haileyville had had well-established clubs for a number of years, and finally McAlester had its own club and larger pool of boys from which to bring in talent. Vaughan writes that Crabtree was “an outstanding boxing coach.”

The date of Vaughan’s boxing debut is not known. McClenahan says that in the beginning, the members of the club would just fight each other for the experience. He says that his and Vaughan’s very first fights were against one another. It was in the American Legion Hall in McAlester where the first boxing match that had ever occurred in McAlester was held, as far as he is aware. They did not know each other beforehand, they were just thrust in the ring together. They quickly became friends and training partners, along with Vaughan’s best friend Jerry Barnes.

Vaughan was small for his age, but quickly became a force to be reckoned with. Below average in height and with a slight frame — some might have called him “scrawny” — it is unlikely he intimidated many of his foes, at least early on.

In his first year his listed weight fluctuated between 105-110 lbs., placing him in the light flyweight, also called fleaweight at the time, class. Sometimes opposing teams had someone his size for him to fight, and sometimes they did not. Other times when he was scheduled for a fight that did not come to fruition, it could be because he or his competitor did not make weight or were a no-show for the bout.

Access to newspaper articles from Vaughan’s first year of boxing have been limited. Vaughan himself kept a scrapbook of clippings that included mentions of him, his team, or his friends—Jerry Barnes prominent among them.

A year older than Vaughan, the two were best friends and sparring partners for the club. Roughly the same size, the two consciously avoided being in the same weight class as often as possible to avoid fighting one another. Whether they did this by fudging their weigh-ins or simply electing to box up or down from their weight class is unclear, but their reported weights were always within just a few pounds of one another, and while they had documented exhibition matches, they never fought one another in a true bout that counted against either of their official records.

A story within the Barnes family, originating with Jerry’s mother, Mrs. Lucy Barnes, further illuminates the boys’ weight management program. The pair would apparently eat very little in their efforts to stay in their favored weight classes. Then once their match would pass, they would consume all they could.

The Barnes family ran a boarding house for railroad workers, and one afternoon Mrs. Barnes had concocted a massive chocolate cake intended for the workers. Unfortunately, her timeline in making this aligned with the boys having completed their most recent bouts. Upon returning home from an errand, she found that her son and Vaughan had eaten the entire thing themselves. She affectionately referred to Vaughan as “The Chocolate Cake Thief” from then on.

McClenahan says he can understand why this incident occurred.

“We [he, Vaughan, and Barnes] trained a lot and used weights regularly, trying to go up or down to our desired weight. We took weigh-ins very seriously. We would chew gum and spit constantly for days to dry ourselves and lose extra weight that way. After weigh-ins, we just pig out, even if we were just about to fight. We’d been starving ourselves for days at that point.”

He suspects that the “cake incident” likely occurred after one of their “dry outs”.

In addition to Coach Crabtree, another seminal figure of the earliest incarnations of the McAlester Boxing Club was Washie Stover. Older than the other boys in the club, Vaughan still forged a friendship with him. He too was smaller for his age and was typically listed in the same weight classes as Barnes and Vaughan.

A protégé of Crabtree, Stover assumed the role of player-coach. According to Troy, most people who came to the early club matches came to see Stover, who was a national Golden Gloves runner-up in 1947 and was part of the American squad that took on the European champions that year.

Stover was a native of Eufaula, and being close with Crabtree, came with him when he took the McAlester job. While Crabtree was a good coach from an organizational standpoint, Stover was the trainer and taught all the club boys how to fight. McClenahan says he fought when needed but mainly spent his time training the younger guys. Called “Mousie” by the club members, McClenahan calls him a “fantastic fighter. He was our mentor and as good a fighter as anyone.”

Coxsey remembers Stover as a nice guy who took an interest in helping the less experienced fighters. Troy remarks that Stover “could have gone pro. He was a real trainer, and showed us how to do everything. We watched and emulated him as best we could. You never see boxers like him anymore. He was a thing of beauty, so light on his feet.”

Stover began boxing at age 9 in Eufaula when he weighed only 90 pounds. He became progressively more successful until joining the Navy in 1945. He continued fighting there, and upon his return to Eufaula, quickly rose to the state’s highest ranks and became State Golden Glove champion at 118 pounds. McClenahan describes him as an “older, louder, tough guy. We all wanted to fight like him and we all looked up to him.”

Vaughan held Stover in very high esteem, and in his scrapbook wrote, “This boy has fought the best.” McClenahan recalls that Stover took his 1947 Golden Gloves Champion robe with him on trips, and would let the younger fighters wear it into the ring for their matches in order to intimidate their opponents.

“Mousie, Jerry, and Don were the Big 3 of our club. They were the heart and soul of our group,” Troy said.

The club had a history of having a handful — around a dozen — of regular fighters and a revolving door of other guys, who would come in for a couple of matches or even just once and never return. When asked how these “regulars” stood out from the pack of dozens of casual fighters, McClenahan states that their black club jackets identified them as the truly dedicated city fighters.

“Everyone in town or at school knew who the real fighters were. We were the guys who were at the gym training nearly every day,” McClenahan said. “Me, Jerry, Don, [Richard] Ramozetti, the Troy brothers, Hal [Savage], Frank Crank, Jon Bert [Williams], Sampson Holden, and a couple others I might be forgetting were always there in my time, always working with Stover or Crabtree.”

While the results of Vaughan’s very first official amateur match are unclear, we do have the results of several of the match-ups from his inaugural season. By late May of 1947, the McAlester team’s record stood at 4-2-1. They primarily sparred against schools and clubs in their vicinity, including teams from Muskogee, Ada, Stuart, Eufaula, and Hugo. An article in Feb 1948 in the McAlester News-Capital reported that on April 16 of the previous year over Stuart, the club had won its first-ever major victory, which dates that match.

Of the 7 matches the club had fought by this point, Vaughan’s results for three of those matches are known:

April 16: In 10-7 club win over Stuart, Vaughan (108) TKO’d Bill Hickerson (109) of Stuart. (First club match of the season.) (1-0, 1-0)

In 10-4 club loss to Goodland Indian School, Vaughan (105) TKO’d David Impson of Goodland. (Third club match of the season.) (2-0, 2-0)

In 10-3 club win over Goodland Indian School of Hugo, Vaughan (107) TKO’d Ben Bohannan (113) of Goodland. (Fourth club match of the season.) (3-0, 3-0)

In cancer fundraiser, Vaughan (106) TKO’d Bill Brantley of McAlester. (4-0, 4-0)

In first round of three-day McAlester City Tournament, Vaughan (105) wins a TKO over James Owens of Krebs. (5-0, 5-0)

Vaughan’s win-loss record is tracked in parenthesis; current season record followed by overall career record.

A picture of the McAlester Tournament champions and a later reference to Vaughan having been champion of the said tournament indicates Vaughan won at least one if not two additional matches in the three-day tournament, but the results of the nights other than the first one are not available at this time. Another undated article states that champions were crowned on June 4th.

Don Vaughan was born Jan. 3, 1932, and the McAlester tournament likely occurred in the latter half of the ’46-’47 season, so he would have been 15 years old when he won the first tournament of many in his career.

At times, McAlester fighters would also supplement the squads of other area clubs in need of additional fighters, or likewise the McAlester club would supplement their own ranks (especially in the higher weight classes) with fighters from other clubs. Tom McClenahan stated, “We didn’t have many decent fighters above welter or middle weight (147 or 160) on our team usually, so Coach Crabtree would sometimes bring guys in from out of town.”

In early May of 1947, for a match against the Oklahoma City club, McAlester brought in fighters from Eufaula, Haileyville, Wilburton, and Muskogee to support their boys, including Wayne Jaggers (Haileyville), Guy Luker (Haileyville), and J. W. Matoy (Eufaula). And in late June, the Stuart club recruited unnamed McAlester fighters for their match against Wagoner, per the Wagoner Tribuner.

Vaughan’s undated clippings collections include the results for three additional matches for this season, two official matches and one exhibition. Exhibition matches occurred fairly often, and were usually fought by members of the same club who were in the same weight class but didn’t have any other opponents to face. Exhibitions could also be bouts held for tryouts and other special events.

Exhibition wins and losses did not count toward a boxer’s official win-loss column, but Vaughan’s known exhibition results have been tracked as well. They will also be tracked in parenthesis after each listed exhibition match, but as their own separate record and with all career-spanning exhibition matches counted together since there are relatively few of them.

In 6-3 club win over Ardmore (1 of 2), Vaughan (112) was TKO’d in an exhibition match by teammate Tommy McClenahan. (0-1, Exhibitions)

June 24: In 10-3 club win over Ardmore (2 of 2), Vaughan (110) TKO’d J. W. Haynes of Ardmore. (6-0, 6-0)

Mixed card of boxers from various area clubs held at the McAlester American Legion. Vaughan (110) decisioned Gene Guinn of Eufaula. (7-0, 7-0)

According to McClenahan, his TKO over Vaughan was the pair’s second-ever match. He says that he “lucky-punched” Vaughan.

“It was downright comical,” McClenahan contended. “It was purely a lucky punch. He was knocked out for a few seconds, came to, and got back up, and the ref called a TKO.”

After he’d gotten up, the referee briefly let the fight continue, but Vaughan was unsteady and his eyes were rolling, according to McClenahan. He was concerned for his friend and told the ref to look at him, who then called the fight.

A TKO, or technical knockout, is when a referee declares the match concluded due to one participant’s inability to continue, usually due to a significant blow or injury. It could also be called due to excessive bleeding, and that was considered a referee’s decision. Often a boxer was nearly knocked out but gets up in an attempt to continue the fight, but the referee declares them unfit, leading to the declaration of a TKO rather than a knock out (KO) which occurs after a fighter sustains a blow they are unable to recover from within a few seconds of receiving it. Boys who got back up would often try to fake that they were okay, according to McClenahan, but an observant referee would be able to tell.

McClenahan and Barnes gave Vaughan a hard time about the knockout for a long time. They would drop references to his “glass jaw” just to bug him. He remembers that after the fight, the three of them went out to dinner. Vaughan was “still loopy,” laughing, and acting silly for quite a while afterward. In his writings, Vaughan contends that this was the first time he was ever knocked out, and it also ended up being the only time it happened in his career.

McClenahan said, “I can’t believe our parents let us go out there like that. We had eight ounce gloves and nothing but a mouthpiece.”

He contends they were lucky that they didn’t get hurt worse or more often than they did.

These post-fight dinners became a regular tradition for the fighters. In December of 1947, the McAlester News-Capital reported that the price of admission to McAlester Boxing Club matches was 10 cents for those age 15 and under, and 50 cents for all others. McClenahan said “they [the club organizers] made a lot of money off of us.”

They were only paid enough to get some food afterward. Club funds were used to pay for travel expenses, buy club jackets for the regular fighters, provide some supplies and training equipment, and to fund other club activities.

Unfortunately, at this time this is all the information known about Vaughan’s inaugural boxing season. A known 7-0 record, including 6 TKOs, while incomplete, is a strong indicator of the promise Vaughan was beginning to show as a boxer and of his success still to come.

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