MAKING THE ROUNDS with the Baron
Sunday Independent, April 7, 1985
Where do we begin the Billy
Speary story? Billy Speary, three time National A.A.U. boxing champion
(actually he was holder of 15 titles as an amateur). Billy Speary,
professional prizefighter who took on four world's champions (while they
held their crowns). Billy Speary, the greatest fighter ever come
out of Luzerne County.
Simply put, Speary, the kid from West
Nanticoke, fought the best and defeated the best. He died much too
young, at the age of 49 (on October 24, 1967),so they'll be saluting him
posthumously when he's inducted into the Wyoming Valley Boxing Hall Of
Fame April 19 at the Wilkes-Barre American Legion. It's the local
Hall's second annual fete and along with Speary, ex-middleweight Neil
Miller and the late Jim McCarthy, veteran sportscaster who passed away
March 20, will be honored.
But, back to Speary. We
rummaged through old newspapers last week and uncovered some stories
about his start in the boxing game.
Seems as though Speary's
brother, Wesley, was a fair-to-middlin' boxer himself so was inevitable,
perhaps, that young Billy would follow his older brother to training
quarters. Billy was a skinny, 90-pounder, attending Nanticoke High
School when he began training under the watchful eye of Art
Thomas. He had been sickly all his life and thought training would
build him up.
But, there's a yarn in the Philadelphia Inquirer
which tells the best (it was written after he became A.A.U.
champ). It follows: "Three years ago his older brother taunted him about being a
That's the reason Bill Speary, 19-year-old West Nanticoke, Pa., youth holds the 112-pound championship after retaining his crown in the Inquirer AA Diamond Belt boxing finale Thursday night at the arena.
Well, if you are only a 16-year-old skinny kid of weighed about 100 pounds, you
too, would have resented an older and heavier brother pounding the tar out of you.
Every time brother Wesley Speary, also an amateur boxer, tagged Bill the younger boy would duck to a corner or hide his face between his hands.
Bill Speary didn't relish the likes of his brother's punishment and put on the whining act until the older boys said,
"That was too much for me, so I
walked right into his punches and took a good beating. But it was the
best thing that happened to me. From then on I made up my mind to become
a boxer," said Flyweight Speary as he related his baptismal
Fortunately for Bill, Arthur Thomas moved to Nanticoke, across the
river, about three years ago and thus began an alliance that has clicked
both ways. Thomas works in the coal mines and his spare moments are
spent developing young amateur boxers. Thomas took Bill Speary in hand
and they join the Tamaqua K. of C., haven for amateur aspirants in the
But Tamaqua is 40 miles from West Nanticoke, so Thomas and Bill Speary
make for their town fire house every night, and there in the glowing
warmth of the engine room do some boxing."
humble beginnings, Billy Speary would go on to earn the title of
In 1937 he entered the Diamond Belt district
eliminations in Tamaqua - and the rest is history: three times national
A.A.U. champion, not to mention his three international championships in
amateur ranks. He simply ruled the roost in the 112-pound and
118-pound ranks during his reign as champion.
Speary always had
his sights set on winning the Olympics, but because of the outbreak of
hostilities, leading to World War II, the Olympics were called off in
1940 and that's when he decided to turn pro.
As a pro, he
fought the best in the world, including sizzlers with bantamweight and
featherweight champ Harry Jeffra, and Joey Archibald, Jackie Callura and
Willie Pep, the latter three having held the 126-pound crown. In
three bouts with Jeffra, the featherweight champ, Speary won the first
in a 10-round decision at Wilkes-Barre on November 19, 1940 but an
overweight clause saved Jeffra's title.
Speary retired from the
ring in 1944 but performed in a referee's capacity in many bouts in the
When he died in 1967, he was living
with his family in Bethlehem, where he was employed as a welder for
Bethlehem fabricating, Inc.
It's been 41 years since Billy
Speary last entered a ring to do battle-but we'll never forget
him. And, they'll be remembering him Friday, April 19, at the Legion.
Billy Speary, the boxing legend.