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Easton, Mass. and the Sweet Science

I was introduced to boxing early on.  When I was six or seven, I went away to summer camp for a couple weeks, to Cathedral Camp down in Freetown.  It was a camp run by the Archdiocese of Fall River.

After dinner, there was a boxing ring set up and campers would be paired evenly according to size and we would get to throw some leather.  It was all closely monitored.  And I’m confident if a boy didn’t want to box he didn’t have to.  I remember being fortunate in that the kid I was put up against was smaller than me.  I recall knocking him down, but apparently the punch didn’t do much damage, for he got smiling and eager to continue.

We may have traded punches for a minute or so longer, and then other kids got a turn.
I am a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to professional boxing. I am a fan of the sport, but, in the pros you don’t wear headgear, and I know that not much good can come of an unprotected head getting smacked – repeatedly.  Of course, neurologists will tell you that even in the amateur ranks, in which the participants wear headgear, that a punch to the noggin is also not good.   It’s not as bad, but it still isn’t good.  Well, it’s a matter of degree.

I had fun writing a recent column about two guys who didn’t get along on the job working for an Easton company – and they took to the boxing ring to get the animosity they held toward one another out of their systems.

Our town has some history with the sweet science.  A lot of it has to do with Easton bordering Brockton, the hometown of undefeated Heavyweight Champion of the World, Rocky Marciano, and adopted home of Middleweight Champion of the World, Marvelous Marvin Hagler – as well as home and training place for many other boxing champs.

As reported in an earlier column of mine, Ken Hurley (Oliver Ames High School Class of 1947), an all-state football at OA, was also a very good boxer.  It wasn’t long after high school that he and his brother, Vinny, started sparring up at Russ Murray’s training facility on Howard Street, which was impressive complex, with a boxing ring and an in-ground pool that measured 20 feet by 60 feet.   Murray was a huge boxing fan, and one of the boxers who trained there regularly was Rocky Marciano.   Both the Hurley boys sparred with Rocky, and it has long circulated as a story in our community that in one sparring session, Ken Hurley knocked down “The Rock.” 

Among the guests at Russ Murray’s home on Howard Street were former heavyweight champ, Joe Louis, and actor-comedian Jackie Gleason.

Ken Hurley – a member of the OAHS Athletic Hall of Fame – went on to win a New England Golden Gloves heavyweight championship.

When I was a kid, Paul Mitrano owned a Chevrolet dealership on Main Street.  Mitrano, who lived in Easton, was very successful in business, and he sponsored many boxers who trained in Brockton.   Mitrano also ran the Easton Public School busing program.   The drivers of the buses were in the employ of Mitrano.   As a youngster, I was interested in boxing, although I never pursued it as a sport, and I would ask questions about boxing of one of Mitrano’s bus drivers, who was a boxing fan.
I wanted to know what boxers did for training.  He told me that to be a good boxer one had to be able run six miles non-stop in training.  This put me off quickly.   This is curious, of course, when you consider that I became a competitive middle distance runner in high school and college.

Robert Langway, a resident of Easton and lawyer, whose practice is in town, is the nephew of Rocky Marciano.  His mother was Marciano’s sister.   Langway, active civically here, actually looks a lot like his famous uncle. 

Willy Nixon, the OA coaching legend, grew up in Brockton, and was a childhood friend of Marciano.  And his Mr. Nixon’s wife to be, Helen Nichols, also a Brockton girl, was best friends with Rocky’s younger sister, Betty.  Helen and Betty remained lifelong pals.

Willy Nixon took up boxing when he attended Stonehill College, and he won an intercollegiate boxing championship.   Now in his early 80s, Mr. Nixon remains nimble and athletic, regularly golfing, playing pool, and occasionally bowling.   Many OA grads could tell you how when he was a coach and teacher, male students, decades younger than him, would engage in good-natured slap fights with Mr. Nixon – and Mr. Nixon would always get the decision.

The Cappiello brothers, Mike and Rich, have Easton ties, and boxing coursing through their blood.  Their father was a first cousin of Rocky Marciano.   Mike and Rich own Cappiello Bros. Boxing and Fitness in downtown Brockton.  Rich, an Easton resident, is a successful boxing promoter, and has put together and produced fight cards that have been televised nationally.

Mike Cappiello, a teacher at Easton Middle School, was an internationally ranked amateur lightweight, who compiled a career mark of 33 wins and six losses.  During his days in the ring he was known as “Little Rock.”   Another interesting bit of information on Mike Cappiello is that he is devout Catholic and weekly communicant.

The Bengal Bouts at the University of Notre Dame – which were started in 1920 by legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne – are an intramural boxing institution, which, since 1931 have raised money for the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh (what is it with Catholicism and boxing?).

The bouts have been televised nationally – and crowds of close to 10,000 have attended the on-campus finals.  One of the most anticipated and hyped and memorable Bengal Bouts in history involved a former Easton kid.  In the 1976 Bengal Bouts super-heavyweight final it was two Irish football All-Americans – both of whom the following season made All America again and were integral to that year’s ND national championship squad.

In that final, going toe to toe were gridiron teammates, 6-3, 240 lb. defensive end, Ross Browner, and 6-5, 251 lb. tight end, Ken MacAfee Jr., who as a toddler lived a short while in Easton.  MacAfee is the son of OA Athletic Hall of Fame member, Ken MacAfee Sr. (OA ’48), who went on to star as a tight end in the NFL – and the nephew of Martha (MacAfee) Gomes (OA ’51), also a member of the OAHS Athletic Hall of Fame.

Browner won the decision that night over MacAfee before a packed house at the Joyce Center.

I gotta dig out the video of that bout.

Source: Ross A. Muscato, Easton Patch

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