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Shellie Lequire, a former boxing promoter and lifelong fan of boxing, celebrated his 75th birthday on June 9, 2005. It was the opening day of the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s sixteenth annual induction weekend, and the first time Shellie had been to the Hall of Fame. Fifteen minutes after arriving, he was making plans to attend next year.
Shellie had been my partner during the 1970s and 80s, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, promoting professional boxing shows throughout the Midwest, under the banner of Canton and Lequire Enterprises, Inc. We were the most active promoters in the state of Kentucky at that time. Shellie retired and I eventually moved to Florida, staying in the business. We occasionally kept in contact, and then a few months ago, I told him I was going to the Hall of Fame ceremonies in June and that he ought to go. He said, “I would like that.”
We made our travel plans and both flew into Atlanta, where we met up and then flew into Syracuse. We picked up a rental car and checked into the Miracle Isle Gaming Resort, in Vernon, New York, prior to heading over to the the Hall of Fame in Canastota. Shortly after checking in at the Hall of Fame, we both enjoyed a Basilio sausage sandwich and started to walk around. There were a few fighters already on the grounds, signing autographs, taking pictures, and visiting with the fans.
Aaron Pryor, considered by many to be the greatest 140 lb. champion in history, was an amateur in the gym Shellie and I hung out in, in Cincinnati. He had not seen Aaron in over twenty years and said, “I wonder if Aaron will even remember me after all this time?” Shortly after, Aaron spotted him in the crowd and came right over with a hug, “We talk about you all the time, I tried to call you a while back,” said Aaron. I guess Shellie got his question answered.
We spent the rest of the afternoon meeting old and new friends, past and current fighters, and having a good time. A couple of years ago it was so cold I went into the gift shop and bought a jacket before coming out and seeing anybody. I told Shellie, “Make sure you have a jacket because it can still get cold in Canastota in June.” This year, it was the hottest ever and Shellie kept saying, “I did bring my coat.”
We went over to Graziano’s and had a great Italian dinner, then spent the rest of the evening talking boxing, reminiscing, and listening to some fabulous boxing stories. I could tell Shellie was in heaven, and this birthday was truly special for him. I said, “Hey Shellie, if you knew you would have this much fun on your seventy-fifth birthday, you would have done this fifty years ago.”
Friday was again spent on the Hall of Fame grounds, and Shellie also went inside the museum itself to enjoy the many fine displays and exhibits. He checked out the gift shop on several occasions, and of course, we ate more Basilio sausage sandwiches. The ringside lectures were fascinating, the celebrity workouts were great, and the fist castings interesting. Lamon Brewster, Christy Martin, and Juan Diaz, all worked out this day.
In the evening, we went to the live fights at the Turning Stone Casino. The main event saw Shannon Briggs destroy previously unbeaten (but untested) Abraham Okine, in a mismatch, in three rounds. The show was televised on ESPN2. The bouts were so one-sided and poor that someone said, “The only reason I’m watching the whole show is because I’m here live and not home to change the channel or turn it off.” I took some pictures, but subconsciously must have known the fights would be duds, because I forgot to put film in the camera.
We saw John Russell at the fights and I introduced Shellie to him. He had suffered through a horrible car accident, but had finally recovered and looked good. Two years earlier Shellie was in bad shape; doctors had told his wife he might not make it, I guess you could say his number was called, but he didn’t hear it. He, too, recovered and was no longer in a wheel chair; in fact he was jumping for joy the whole weekend. I, too, had come through serious spinal surgery last year and had recovered well enough to be able to be back in the ring each night training my fighters. As the three of us stood around talking, we couldn’t help but think how lucky we were to be able to visit like this and then walk away. We could have all three been in wheel chairs, or worse.
On Saturday, I was armed with my press credentials, and Shellie bought a ticket to the boxing autograph card show at Canastota High School. We thoroughly enjoyed the memorabilia and he bought a couple of great books and other items. We stopped by the golf course, had a nice BBQ lunch with 2005 inductee Terry Norris, and enjoyed the companionship of some of the past champions and their families.
We then put on our suits and ties and stopped by the “Gala” Cocktail Reception at the Greystone Chapel. This was certainly a weekend highlight. Former world welterweight champ John H. Stracey did a terrific job of entertaining everyone with his fine vocals. He is really a talented singer. The Banquet of Champions Dinner followed. This year it moved to the Turning Stone Resort and Casino, which was an excellent improvement all the way around. The Hall of Fame weekend is the highlight of the year in boxing, and the Banquet of Champions dinner is the highlight of the weekend.
Sunday morning everyone started to say their goodbyes, while the Parade of Champions began. This is a truly special event. This year’s Grand Marshall was Ryan O’Neal. The actual induction ceremony took place next. The living inductees for the class of 2005 were Bobby Chacon, Duilio Loi, Barry McGuigan, Terry Norris, matchmaker Don Fraser, and writer Bert Randolph Sugar. Posthumous honorees were Eugene Criqui, Joe Lynch, Charles “Bud” Taylor, Marcel Thil, Bill Cayton, Lope Sarreal, Jersey Jones, Harry Mullan, and Jack Randall. After the closing ceremonies everyone said their final goodbyes and headed for the airport. Shellie said, “I’ll never have a better seventy fifth birthday than this,” as he looks forward to his seventy sixth.