Jeff Jardine: Modesto boxing show suffers technical knockout by state commission

jjardine@modbee.comJune 23, 2014 

From the emails, voice mails and other sources:

FIGHTING RED TAPE – For the second straight year, former Modesto boxer Johnny Staggs planned to stage a boxing show fundraiser that would benefit the American Cancer Society.

The disease claimed Staggs’ mom and brother four months apart in 2012 and 2013. He scheduled the first show June 21, 2013, to coincide with brother Curtis’ birthday, and planned this year’s show last weekend for the same reason.

The inaugural event generated $2,000 for the American Cancer Society, Staggs said. This year’s event was scheduled for Saturday at the Bad to the Bonz Gym in Modesto. The event was to include amateur boxing, raffles, food and other elements. But just as people were making their $10 donations and filing into the building, a representative from the California State Athletic Commission arrived with two Modesto police officers in tow and shut down the event, or at least the boxing part.

“I’m saddened and hurt by what happened,” Staggs said. “Appalled. Amazed. Heartbroken.”

He admits he failed to complete all of the paperwork with the state commission, but said the fighters were to wear 18-ounce gloves, mouthpieces, headgear and protective cups, with minute-long rounds followed by minute-long rests.

Andy Foster, executive director of the athletic commission, said the representative stopped the boxing portion of the event because it had not been sanctioned either by USA Boxing, which oversees amateur boxing throughout most of the nation, or by the athletic commission, which has power over USA boxing events in the state.

“We want to work with him,” Foster said. “We want boxing in California. But it’s got to be done correctly.”

Hence, Staggs had to announce to the crowd there would be no boxing during the event.

“We had live music, food and a DJ,” he said.

Many stayed anyway, he said, to socialize and win the door prizes and raffle items donated for the benefit. Staggs said he’ll be able to hand $600 over to the Cancer Society, after expenses. And he said that if he decides to try again next year, he’ll dot all of his i’s and right-cross all of his t’s. He’s disappointed the state played hardball with what was charity event.

“This wasn’t for profit,” he said. “It was all for a good cause.”

IN THE OTHER CORNER – Several years ago, a local nightclub staged what amounted to a tough-man contest under the guise of a boxing card: One-minute rounds, two-minute rests.

The ringside physician was an EMT. None of the fighters had undergone neurological exams, let alone physicals. One-minute rounds followed by two minutes of serious gasping. The timekeeper clacked a pewter wine bucket with a wooden spoon. The judges sat at tables ringside while imbibing. No one – the referee, judges or combatants – had been licensed by the state. It was a recipe for disaster, and it is fortunate no one was hurt.

The unlicensed, self-proclaimed promoter claimed she didn’t need the state’s blessing as long as the fighters weren’t ranked.

Huh? Sanctioning only for shows involving ranked fighters? I covered boxing for 17 years, from low-level “smokers” to numerous world title fights, and never heard that one before. The state stepped in to make sure it didn’t happen again – at least not that way.

TEACHER REVISITED – Longtime elementary school teacher Nancy “Boots” Lee is a resident at Bethel Retirement Community. In the past two months, she’s had an out-of-the-blue visit from a former student, Rodney Mortensen, and an invitation to the 70th birthday party of another student from the same class, Chuck Merenda, on Friday. She plans to attend.

Both men were in her combination first/second-grade class at James Marshall Elementary in 1949, where she began her teaching career.

“No one called her ‘Boots,’ ” Merenda said. He’d been one of her first-grade students at James Marshall when the school opened in the fall of 1949. Years later, he ran into her at a restaurant, and they’ve stayed in contact ever since. She was one of the teachers who made a big impact with the time she spent with him.

“And I suspect she did that with all of the kids,” Merenda said. “She made you feel special.”

One day, she told him he could call her “Boots.”

“No way,” Merenda told her. “You’re Mrs. Lee, and that is it.”

Mortensen, a well-known local stage performer, dropped in to see Lee at Bethel in May.

“It was so good to see him,” Lee said. “Chuck told him I was here.”

“Boots” taught at Marshall and also at Empire Elementary during her career, which ended when she retired in 1985. A neighbor nicknamed her “Boots” when she was a child.

“When I started school, my mom told me, ‘Now, Boots, your real name is Nancy. When they call ‘Nancy,’ they’re calling you.’ 

STEPPINGSTONES – The headline of the June 1977 quarterly publication from the Stanislaus County Historical Society (now the McHenry Museum and Historical Society) might as well be this quarter’s: “Drought Country.”

The edition featured stories about the Valley before the formation of the irrigation districts and systems, when great rains meant great grain outputs, primarily wheat and barley. “Sky farmers” knew that “a wet year, and crops were good: a dry year, nothing.’ 

According to West Side native W.W. Cox, “The greatest fear of the early settlers was that of a drought, for everyone was affected. Everyone watched and prayed for the welcome November rains. Sometimes the rains failed to come, and then there was tragedy; as when in 1864, two years after the great flood of 1862, the ranchers sold 60,000 head of cattle at 371/2cents a head.”

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.

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