The Women’s National Golden Gloves tournament, hosted by the folks at Canino’s Karate and Boxing Studio, holds a dear place in my heart. Even though I only went three times, Ft. Lauderdale will always be branded in my memory as the beautiful place where boxing met the beach.
First of all, let me just say that I desperately wish the people putting on this event had had the same kind of resources and support as what goes into the “regular” National Golden Gloves competition for the men. I know boxing is a male-dominated sport—I get it—but I sure wish the women didn’t get short-changed so obviously. Having said that, I appreciate and love everything that Bonnie Canino and Yvonne Reis (and others) did to put on a great event for years!
Why the past tense? On January 4, 2018, USA Boxing’s membership received an email from the executive director stating:
We are excited to recognize that starting this year, National Silver Gloves and Golden Gloves of America including their local franchises will provide females the same opportunity to box as males in local, regional and national tournaments. This will increase more female boxer opportunities and strengthen our sport.
I had heard about this on Facebook from this post, and I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, this could bring more exposure for the female athletes at a much larger event (with more resources). However, it could also dry up the competitive opportunities when it’s already so difficult to find matches. It makes sense that women should qualify for nationals just like men do, but it might narrow the field of players and create more walk-over “wins” at each tournament (i.e. you win because there’s no opponent for you).
I do think it’s a step in the right direction, of maybe (possibly) pooling resources to support all the athletes, but I can easily imagine that the women might be stuffed into a corner and denied their share of those resources. (I’m saying this based only on my own experiences and what I’ve observed in local-level competition.) All the same, I’m glad that we’ll have space in the same regional and national events.
But enough of the politics, because nobody asked me! Here are some dear memories of the event while I had the fortune of participating.
WNGG 2014: My First Taste
The first time I attended the Women’s National Golden Gloves (WNGG) in July 2014, I came as a spectator to support two women from our gym who competed. I kept the gym open for the beginning of the week once the team left, and then I closed shop and joined them for the end of the tournament. I caught a late flight to Ft. Lauderdale one Wednesday night and a rental van full of tipsy friends picked me and my watermelon up at the airport.
Wait, what? I brought a whole watermelon on the plane with me in my carry-on. Why? Well, Terri asked me to bring it, so I did. Amidst the laughter, she explained that she forgot to tell me she’d been joking. So that’s how I carried a watermelon to Florida, which we never ate and, instead, drew a happy face on.
I only got to see one of our two boxers’ bouts. When it was time for her to fight, we walked from our hotel room to one of the hotel ballrooms and set up camp in the hallway for her warm-up. (The following year, all boxers and coaches had to stay outside. I think our noisy warm-up was part of the reasoning for this…) I kept straying inside to watch some of the matches, but Terri always called me back into the hall to support the team. I understood that, but I also really wanted to watch the fights.
Nothing sweeter than this.
Our girl won her match, though it was allegedly so boring that one of our guys stopped filming it half-way through. (We teased her about that, but we also called him out for being a jerk.) After her fight, we stuck around to see a quick TKO and then we were outta there. That was all I got to see of the Women’s National Golden Gloves that year, and I was quite disappointed. We spent the rest of the long weekend partying and going to all the beaches in the area. I enjoyed that, but I definitely wanted to see the finals at the end of the week. Looking back, I should have stayed behind to go to the fights by myself.
Because of some intense drama among us, this was actually the most tension-fraught vacation I’ve ever been on. The trip culminated in one terrifying car ride where all seven or eight of us piled into a van driven by a totally drunk person. You know what’s really scary? The idea that one person can seize so much power in a group that the group would rather risk their lives than confront someone to take away the keys. We even had a “conference” in the car when the driver got out at a gas station, trying to decide who should take the keys. We settled on nobody, because we were too scared to upset this person. What does that say about the driver, and what does it say about the rest of us?
Regardless, the negative personal problems didn’t mar my picture of the WNGG event at all. I couldn’t wait to come back and compete the following year, because I liked what I saw!
WNGG 2015: Dive In!
I registered immediately when the 2015 tournament dates were announced. I had wanted to enter as a novice for my first go-round in a national tournament, but I had gone open in my previous match and couldn’t compete as a novice anymore. I entered the WNGG 2015 as an elite 119-pounder for my 9th fight. I was nervous about who I might meet in the ring, but I was still pumped.
We woke up early on July 5th and gathered in the gym parking lot to pack ten people’s bags into three vehicles. Combine vacation bags with boxing gear, and you’re looking at cars packed to the brim. On the way south, we made our notorious stop at a gas station on the turnpike to weigh ourselves. We took turns weighing right on the sidewalk in our underwear and bras. (I’m surprised we didn’t get thrown out…) I absolutely love road trips and had a blast all the way.
Once we got to the hotel, we checked our weights again and I headed to bed without dinner. The folks who weren’t fighting did their obligatory “WE’RE HERE!” shenanigans and didn’t get to sleep until 4:45 am (which means I didn’t, either).
When we saw the brackets at the rules meeting on Monday night, I was disappointed by the turnout. Fewer boxers registered than I’d hoped, but at least there were three in my weight class: one who was on the US national team, one who was ranked in the top ten and myself. (One of these is not like the others…) At the draw, it was determined that I would fight Virginia Fuchs on Wednesday in the semi-final. I had met Fuchs earlier that year at the “Clash of Champions” (which was an event we hosted at BFC pitting our national women’s team against China’s). The following year, Fuchs qualified for the 2016 US Olympic Team but failed to qualify internationally for the actual Olympics.
Most of our days before the fights were spent running quick errands, eating strict rations (think scrambled egg whites with half a banana), and napping and chatting and chilling in the hotel room while Terri and the boys were out on the beach. These were my favorite times! I enjoyed watching the fights on Tuesday and I grew increasingly excited about my own fight.
The morning of my fight (7/8/2015), I weighed in naked at exactly 118.0 lbs. Our scale in the hotel said 119.0, so I stripped down because I was scared the official scale might read heavier and disqualify me if I hit 119.1. Turns out, there was no need to worry. They paired us up in line at the weigh-in, so I waited next to Fuchs. She recognized me from the Clash of Champions event mentioned above and emphasized that she hadn’t known my name and wondered who she was fighting. Ha! I was out of my league, but I wasn’t scared and I couldn’t wait to get in there.
I re-watched this fight to see if my memory had changed with the years, and I’m still proud of my performance. I didn’t have the skill or experience to take control, but I was relentless. In the first round, I charged forward and got hit too much. When I got a standing eight-count, the referee’s attitude toward me felt condescending and I suspect it’s because I was new. I let him know that I was fine to continue and I finished the round looking like an annoying (but hittable) thing that wouldn’t go away.
I adjusted for the second round and did better, moving around instead of rushing in one single direction. In fact, I caught her a couple times because I was getting comfortable… and then the ref stopped the fight. I lost by TKO.
We were puzzled that the ref stopped it in the second round, when I was doing better than in the first. I do appreciate referees erring on the side of caution, and I know I wasn’t going to win. Still, I felt that I would’ve lasted the four rounds without damage and wished I’d had the opportunity to prove it. Either way, I put up a fight and was proud of myself. I performed to the best of my ability at the time against someone with more experience than myself and my previous opponents combined. The important thing is that each fight teaches me something, and this one was nothing but encouragement. Yes, I was disappointed by the stoppage, but it was OK. The other two girls on our team won their matches that day.
Fuchs won the tournament and I walked away with a bronze medal. (I guess that’s the perk of being third of three…) Our bracket with results is here and you can see the rest of the brackets and bout sheets here.
You only have to behave until after you’re done fighting! We went home to the hotel room, dropped off our gear and headed for the hotel bar to begin my vacation.
We went to Hollywood Beach the day after my fight. We walked around, looked at tourist shops, rented bikes and died laughing when one of our guys wiped out on the sidewalk. (You had to be there.) We found really good food at the Taco Spot, with awesome coconut drinks. After that, it was home to hit the fights.
The next day, we went to Miami and visited 5th St. Gym (holla!) before renting a cabana on South Beach. We laid around, went swimming, took a jet ski tour, ordered drinks and lived the life.
We wanted to watch the finals, so we spent the last day of fights at the hotel: by the pool, playing ping-pong, playing foosball, lounging… (I love the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 Hotel!) The induction ceremony for the second class of women into the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame was held that night. Terri was being inducted and we were proud! (I’ll write about this experience in a post of its own.) We ran straight from the ceremony to our team’s last fight (a non-tournament bout), and finished with a W.
At the end of the week, of course, it was time to pack up and head home. “Bye until next year!” We piled back in the cars, paid the exorbitant parking fees and made the trek home after an incredible week.