By Steven J. Canton, February 11, 2011
On March 16, 1966, as boxing fans filed in to City Arena, in Richmond, Virginia to watch the continuing comeback of Willie “The Will o’ the Wisp” Pep they didn’t realize that they would see the end of one legend and the beginning of another. Pep, one of the greatest fighters of all time was 44 years old and had been swapping leather for pay for 26 years. After retiring in 1959 Pep had resumed his great career in 1965 for financial reasons and was riding a nine bout winning streak. It was a sad day for Pep fans however, as he lost a six round decision to Calvin Woodland, a scrappy 5’3 ½” jr. lightweight. Pep retired for good with only his 11th loss in 242 total bouts and lived out his life in boxing immortality. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

Calvin Woodland continued to fight on until 1973 and retired with a final record of 19-5, with 14 K.O.’s. Along the way, he lost to two future world champions; Carlos “Teo” Cruz and Alfredo Marcano. He was known for his aggressive non stop style and was a real crowd pleasing fighter. However, it was not the boxing ring where he gained his fame and admiration, but rather in the battle of life. Calvin Woodland was a true champion and his legacy lives on.

Calvin, born in Washington, D.C, in 1940, was one of four children and grew up near Columbia Heights. His father was a chef at a downtown carryout and was also one of the first blacks to have his own truck route for the old Arcade Sunshine Laundry company. Calvin loved sports, especially football, and his brother-in-law got him involved in boxing. He graduated from Roosevelt High School and landed a job as a mail carrier. Calvin boxed as an amateur and then turned pro. He had come up the hard way and wanted to give back to the youth and lead them on the right path. He used much of his ring earnings to start many neighborhood sports programs and became a legendary figure in the impoverished public housing developments of Southwest Washington. He spent more than 30 years of his life to keeping kids off the unforgiving streets of Anacostia, one of the poorest sections of Washington, where he had lived since the 1960’s.

He became a mentor to hundreds of kids who played on his football teams, boxed in his makeshift rings and competed in his annual junior Olympic programs. His young athletes were honored in parades and cheered by hundreds of spectators. He held annual award banquets where he gave out trophies and jackets to team members and to the cheerleaders, and he always acknowledged their sponsors and supporters. Those jackets were the only winter coats some would own. Many of his youngsters completed college and had successful business careers, some became successful professional athletes. They all owed a great deal of gratitude, respect, and love to Calvin Woodland.

Calvin Woodland Jr., who is called “Rock,” said that more than 20 different kids lived with them at various times. He remembers that his father once found a 7 year old kid sleeping in a telephone booth and took him home. It was more than three years before the boy’s mother finally came and took him back with her. Rock said that many of the neighborhood kids used to think that they were rich because of what his father did for everyone, but they were just as poor as everyone else. Rock also had it hard, often times getting into fights and getting into trouble. He says, “I was making my father look bad, he was out there trying to keep kids from doing the things I was doing.” He started drinking at age 12 and drugs soon followed. He became a father at age 17 and his first arrest came at age 18. He racked up over 37 criminal charges over the next 12 years. However, it was the discipline and love his father had instilled in him which ultimately helped to turn his life around. “When I was ready to change, I was able to draw on everything he had given me…he was my source of strength.”

On April 4, 2000, Calvin Woodland Sr. died at the Potomac Rehabilitation Center, in Arlington, after suffering a stroke. He was 60 years old.

The following year the Calvin Woodland Sr. Foundation was incorporated by family and friends and is headed up by Calvin Woodland Jr., who also works in City Government as Chief of Staff for D.C. Council member Jim Graham. To quote from the Calvin Woodland Sr. Foundation website, “Calvin Woodland Sr. gave us vision, dreams and a belief in ourselves…”

“The foundation, in honor of the legacy of Calvin Woodland Sr. is committed to developing and imparting programs and services that remove the barriers that negatively impact the lives of low income residents along with providing activities and services for the children of Ward 8 community of District of Columbia. Calvin Woodland Sr.’s legacy continues today through the eyes of many because of his works, and his caring heart. We strive to continue in the footsteps helping to fight for our communities.”

On September 27, 2008, officials of the District of Columbia showed their appreciation for Calvin Woodland Sr., by renaming the street where he had lived to Calvin Woodland Sr. Place. More than 100 residents and city officials were in attendance, many of whom were recipients of Calvin Woodland’s good deeds and those of the Calvin Woodland Sr. Foundation. This was a fitting tribute to a man who had given his life to helping others in need.

On Wednesday night, January 27, 2010, Calvin Woodland Jr.’s half brother, also named Calvin, but who went by the nickname “Pouda” was shot seven times and killed in Anacostia while standing in the parking lot where he lived. It was a suspected robbery as witnesses stated they saw a masked man removing items from the victim as he lay bleeding and fatally wounded. The younger Woodland was just 18 years old and was about to start a job at a recreation center. Calvin Jr. said he’s comforted many other victim’s grieving families through his job, but nothing prepared him for this. “If Dad wasn’t dead, this would have killed him.” An autopsy showed that Woodland had died from two bullets in the back. On March 4, 2010, police arrested Reginald Rogers, also 18, for the shooting death of Woodland. The two had known each other since elementary school, but were not good friends. It is ironic that the son of someone who worked so long and so hard to curb violence would have his life taken by violence at such a young age. However, it shows the importance of the work that Calvin Woodland Sr. devoted his life to, and the Calvin Woodland Foundation provides.

For those who went to the City Arena, in Richmond, Virginia on that fateful March night in 1966 full of anticipation of the continuing career of Willie Pep, and left with sadness at witnessing his final fight could never have imagined the impact his opponent, Calvin Woodland, would have on humanity in the coming years. Such was the life of Calvin Woodland…a true champion in life.


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Category: Steve's Corner

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