When Jim Slack of Muscatine found out that he was going to be inducted into the Iowa Amateur Boxing Hall of Fame, it stunned him as if he were caught by a jab he never saw coming.
“I couldn’t believe it. When I got the phone call that I was to report to the state Golden Gloves tournament in Des Moines, I said, ‘For what?’ He said it was to be inducted into the state hall of fame,” Slack said. “And I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ It really caught me off guard. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me.”
Slack and fellow Muscatine native Craig Sulzberger were inducted to the Iowa Amateur Boxing Hall of Fame during the Iowa Golden Gloves tournament, which was held on April 15 at the Val Air Ballroom in West Des Moines. Both had lengthy careers in boxing.
Slack spent 35 years as an amateur boxing trainer, but his start with the sport seemed like a coincidence. It was 1976, and Slack was working as a deputy for the Muscatine County Sheriff’s Department. Every year Slack needed to qualify, shooting a certain score in order to be able to carry his handgun, and the qualifying was held at the National Guard Armory. His 7-year-old son, Jamie, asked to go along, and was intrigued by the Muscatine Boxing Club fighters who trained in the armory. After a couple days of begging his father, Jamie signed up for the club.
“I figured the first time he got hit, he’d want to quit. Wrong. All that did was fire him up,” Slack said of his son. “He boxed until he was in college. He won all the titles the state had to offer — Silver Gloves, Junior Olympics, regional tournaments. At one time he was ranked No. 4 in the United States. That’s what got me involved.”
Slack accompanied his son to the armory many nights, and eventually Mick Hagerman, the Muscatine Boxing Club coach who was inducted into the Iowa Amateur Boxing Hall of Fame in 2016, asked Slack to help out. From there, Slack said, it just snowballed. He went on to be the Vice President of Iowa Amateur Boxing and then served as president for 15 years. He was the coordinator of Junior Olympics for four states, and in 1989 he took a team of U.S. boxers to England to compete, which Slack said was the biggest highlight of his career.
Slack, now 73, said his time in boxing was very gratifying.
“My reward through the 35 years that I put into amateur boxing is to see the kids advance on and make something of themselves,” Slack said. “We’ve had kids end up being lawyers and doctors.”
During his time as a boxing trainer, Slack coached Sulzberger, who was an outstanding amateur boxer.
“Craig was an excellent boxer,” Slack said. “He was more of an outside boxer rather than an inside. Craig could hurt you with a jab.”
Sulzberger began his boxing career at the age of 13, fighting out of the Muscatine Boxing Club.
“I got beat up, so I started training and got to fighting,” he said.
And when Sulzberger started fighting, he started winning. He won three AAU state titles and four Golden Gloves tournaments in the light welterweight (165 pounds) division.
“Every time I went to one, I won,” Sulzberger said. “I never lost a state title.”
Sulzberger also competed on the national stage a number of times.
In 1983, Sulzberger found himself out of work during a recession so he began entering Tough Man boxing tournaments, which allowed anyone to walk in off the street and fight. After winning tournaments in Des Moines and Dubuque, he went to the national Tough Man tournament in West Virginia, where he took second place in the heavyweight division.
In 1991, Sulzberger hadn’t been training, but got a call asking him to fight the next day in Davenport. On the same card as a middleweight title fight between Michael Nunn and James Toney, Sulzberger lost a four-round decision to Chicago’s Mark Randazzo.
“He had the guy beat, but he ran out of gas,” Slack said of Sulzberger.
That bout ended up being Sulzberger’s first professional fight. He would only lose twice more, compiling a 13-3 record with eight wins by knockout.
Sulzberger, now 58, still works out religiously. He, like Slack, said his career in boxing was very rewarding.
“It keeps you busy and keeps you out of trouble. You won’t have time for trouble. Boxing did that for me,” Sulzberger said. “It’s a pretty good deal. You learn to improve yourself.”
Sulzberger enjoyed seeing friends in Des Moines as he was inducted into the Iowa Amateur Boxing Hall of Fame.
“I saw a lot of old faces that I went places with, the fighters and the coaches,” he said. “It was a pretty good time.”
— Travis J. Brown, Muscatine Journal