Sports JACKpot

Bethlehem Globe Times


With the Olympics in full swing, challenging the World Series for space on sports pages throughout the country, we pause to reflect that there scarcely is a youngster who hasn't dreamed of being proficient enough in some sport to represent the United States in the world's greatest amateur spectacle.  As Bethlehemites, we all share in the pride of having a local wrestler, Greg Ruth, attaining that dream.  The fact that Greg didn't win a gold medal doesn't lessen that pride one bit.


Billy Speary, who now lives at 1252 Manchester Road in West Bethlehem, rates his failure to appear in the Olympics as one of the keenest disappointments he has suffered in a sport which is known for its share of heart breaks.  Plans for the Olympics continued through the early months of 1940 even though Hitler unleashed his Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe against Poland in September of 1939, a move which brought England and France into the war.  However, 1940s saw a spread of war in the Olympics were canceled.

Speary, a cocky little Welshman who was born and fought out of Nanticoke in the coal regions, certainly had every right to represent the U.S. in Olympiad.  For three years running he was national A.A.U. champion.  He won the amateur Bantam title in 1937 at Boston, returned there in 1938 to capture the flyweight crown and then successfully defended back crown in 1939 at San Francisco at the World's Fair which was being run in competition with another World's Fair in New York.


The youngest in a family of six children, Billy became interested in fighting because one of his brothers had been fairly well in the sport.  He had his first fight in 1936, dropping a decision to Paul Cardinal of Wilkes-Barre in Sayre, Pa.  Fighting several times a week, he gradually became ringwise and, starting in 1937, ran off an amazing 186 consecutive victories in a row as an amateur, including his three national titles.  In March of 1940, he turned professional after learning that the Olympics were canceled.

His manager, both as an amateur and pro, was Art Thomas, a native of Wales, who died last December in Nanticoke at the age 74. Well-known throughout the Lehigh Valley, as well as the rest of the nation at that time, Billy was guessed of honor at a testimonial in Bethlehem at the Old Brewery Tavern on April 12, 1940.

The late Billy Sheridan, wrestling coach at Lehigh University, was toastmaster, and fellow Scotsman, the late Bill Stark, Bethlehem High mat, soccer and swimming mentor, was principal speaker..  Presentation of gifts was made by Fred Nonnemacher, retired sports editor of the Globe-Times, and Jack Saurina, the

Speary's pro career started off on the same note as the one he left as an amateur.  He breezed through 19 straight wins, including a non-title victory at Wilkes-Barre over Harry Jeffra of Baltimore, the reigning world champion of the featherweight's.  In a subsequent bout, also non-title, Jeffra handed Speary his first pro loss in 1942.  In those days, a title fight was only given to those who could come up with a big guarantee.


Following his loss to Jeffra, Billy resumed his winning ways until a "set up" in 1941 at Rochester, New York.  A fighter had to cancel out of a fight with Mike Graffin *** in the promoter called Speary to fill in.  Billy was told that Graffin  would be easy to handle, Speary hadn't prepare for the bout and to make matters worse, his manager was seriously hurt in an auto accident on the way to the fight and Billy went on without Thomas in his corner for the first time.

Graffin tagged him with a hard right over the right eye in the first round and kept him bleeding throughout the ten rounds to cop the decision.  Billy needed 12 stitches after the fight to stop the bleeding.  Although otherwise undamaged in the fight, Billy was on his way out although he didn't know it at the time.  Every time he fought someone decent, the old eye injury would start to bleed in the fight would be stopped.  And he thought some pretty decent ones-like Willie Pep and Ike Williams, both of whom later won world championships.  He dropped three verdicts to Pep and one to Williams, all in 1943.

Speary called it quits in May 1944, depressed both by the death of his mother and recurring bleeding every time he was tagged hard.  Never knocked out, his record as a pro was 39-9. (Authors note: This only totals 48 pro fights.  According to ring record book Billy fought 52, according to other sources he fought 65 professional fights).  He returned in Nanticoke and started braking on a motor outside the mines.  Eventually he went down the mines but after seeing two young kids get crushed to death from a falling mine roof, he promptly quit.  He worked at the Bethlehem steel for seven years and then as a boilermaker for two years.  For the past five years he has worked as a tack welder at the Bethlehem Fabricators.

A resident of Bethlehem for the past ten years, Bill had married the former Dorothy Konsevitch, his childhood sweetheart, in 1941.  They are the parents of four children, Billy Jr., 21, a senior at California State College; Anna, 15 a sophomore at BHS; Susie, 9, a fourth-grader at Clearview School, and Bruce, 3.  Speaking of his career, Billy said, "If I had to do it over, I would have been the same thing.  My one regret is that I never was able to keep that Olympic date.


***I have no record of a fighter named Graffin.  Billy fought Mike RAFFA in Rochester in 1941.  I can only assume this is the fight the writer is referring too.  Coincidentally, articles covering the 1941 Speary/Raffa  fight in Rochester show that Art Thomas was not present & that Billy had another man - Joe Netro - acting as his manager that night.





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