Stillwater News Press

Sports Columns

March 25, 2014

Holt Report: Boxing club coach Friend impacted many lives

STILLWATER, Okla. — In a sport some might consider brutal, Ralph Friend was a calm and gentle coach, mentor and advocate.

Friend, the founder and longtime coach of the Stillwater Boxing Club, died March 15 at the age of 84. His funeral was held last Saturday afternoon.

Friend, who has been a coach since 1947, began boxing in high school and helped coach his prep team in Ontario, Ore. He later boxed and coached boxers while in the United States Army.

While providing expertise in the finer points of the sport, Friend also used boxing to teach life lessons to the many young men he tutored. He cared about all his boxers and safety was a top priority.

He taught all the right things, things like hard work and sportsmanship. He taught humility to those who were lacking and helped those on the shy side come out of their shell. He left lifetime impressions on the young men as well as the coaches and Golden Gloves officials he met.

I met Friend when he worked in the corner for professional fighter Kelly Burden of Cushing, who fought under the name Brian Kelly, when Kelly fought for the light-heavyweight championship against Bob Foster in Oklahoma City in 1971.

Friend started the Stillwater Boxing Club in the early 1970s. A constant search for workout space led him to build a small metal building behind his house on Jardot Street. That’s where some of the finest amateur boxers in the Kansas-Oklahoma region were trained by Friend and his assistant Fred Causley Sr.

He resembled a proud parent when talking about successes of his fighters. Like a parent, he also suffered with his boxers. He was heart-broken when promising 18-year-old fighter Martin Pinney of Stillwater died in a motorcycle accident in July 1979.

A year later, Friend started the Martin Pinney Memorial Boxing Tournament, which became one of the region’s most successful tournaments.

Saturday, Friend was buried next to Pinney.

Besides guiding the SBC boxers, Friend was a longtime coach for the Kansas-Oklahoma Gold Gloves team. He had the respect of the National Golden Gloves organization, which inducted Friend into its Hall of Fame on April 24, 2011. The city of Stillwater proclaimed Ralph Friend Day in recognition of that honor.

Friend’s sons, Joey and Daniel, gave emotional insights into their dad’s life as a Christian man and devoted father. Numerous pictures and memorabilia of Ralph’s boxing and coaching career were on display.

Causley and James Beasley, Golden Gloves executive director, praised Friend for his contributions to amateur boxing.

His former boxers served as pallbearers and numerous Golden Gloves coaches and boxers were in attendance. Sean O’Grady, the former World Boxing Association Lightweight Champion and television analyst from Oklahoma City, paid his respects.

It was a gathering that would have humbled Ralph Friend and made him proud.

Ron Holt is a columnist for the Stillwater News Press. Holt was a sports editor for The News Press for nearly 30 years and still resides in Stillwater.

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