Sanders hangs up gloves

30 Nov 2000 |

To the average sports aficionado, former boxing champs, Sergio Reyes and Leon Spinks are just another two fighters in the ring. Sitting on the couch critiquing their technique is an easy thing to do. But when one former Marine boxing coach here critiqued Reyes and Spinks they turned their heads to listen.

After 12 years as the Marine Corps boxing coach and more than 50 years of ring experience, Sanders hung up his gloves Nov. 30.

Now 62 years old, Sanders began his boxing days at the Brewster Recreation Center in his native city of Detroit as a teenager.

Spending most of his time involved in sports, Sanders enjoyed keeping active as a young man. After graduating high school in 1958, he decided to stay active by enlisting in the Marine Corps.

Fighting came naturally, according to Sanders. His skills as a boxer were quickly noticed in boot camp.

With drill instructors on the sidelines witnessing Sanders plunder other recruits during training, he was soon asked if he would like to be part of the Marine Corps boxing team upon completion of boot camp.

The accomplishments piled as Sanders' Marine career progressed. He competed at the Olympic trials in 1960, later became the All-Marine Champion from 1960 until 1964 and All Armed Forces Champion in 1961.

"When I was champ, I fought in the light middleweight class for most my career, which tops off at 155 pounds, but my best fighting weight was at 156," said Sanders.

In 1966 Sanders took a break from ring life and became a drill instructor at San Diego Recruit Depot followed by a tour in Vietnam during the height of the conflict in 1968.

Upon returning to the States, Sanders resumed duties in his primary military occupational specialty (MOS) as a subsistence supply man.
Sanders continued to keep involved in Marine Corps boxing offering his help by coaching and sparring with teammates.

At about 6-foot 2-inches tall and 160 pounds, Sanders may appear imposing, but he says disciplined boxers use their skills only when needed.

According to the former Marine Corps champ, his boxing skills aided him in solving a problem in a gentlemanly way, when he had to correct a fellow Marine at his former duty station at Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro.

"After I returned from Vietnam and resumed my duties within my MOS, there were some unkind words exchanged between me and a belligerent sergeant. I happened to be a gunnery sergeant at the time," recalled Sanders.

In an effort to teach the Marine a lesson in humility and respect, Sanders challenged the Marine to a boxing match.

"The other Marine had no clue I was a boxer and lasted less than one round.  I think he paid more attention to who he was belligerent to in the future," said Sanders.

It was a gentleman's way to settle a minor dispute and no one got hurt, Sanders added.

Shortly after, Sanders resumed his role on the boxing team as a coach and had the opportunity to train professional boxer and former Marine, Leon Spinks, who later went on to defeat former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. 

In 1978, Sanders decided to retire from the Marines after serving 20 years and achieving the rank of master sergeant.

"After retiring and moving to California in the late 70s, I got a job as a probation officer in San Diego. The only problem was, I still had the desire to be involved in the sport I love," said Sanders.

With his desire still burning, Sanders went to Colorado Springs, Colo., and applied for the job of U.S. National Boxing Team coach. He was hired in 1982.
His experience as a coach in the Marine Corps helped. In 1984, Coach Sanders led the American team to nine gold medals at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

In 1988, familiar faces turned their interests to Sanders. The Marine Corps team, in need of a morale boost at the time, pursued the coaching skills of Sanders, offering him the job of head coach, according to Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Base, Sergeant Major, Sgt. Maj. F. Michael Cline, who is from Vineland, N.J.  He gladly accepted.

"Within a year the Marine Corps went on to win the team trophy at the prestigious Blue and Gold Boxing Tournament in Baldwin Park (Calif.). They have won every year since he has taken over as head coach, said Cline.

He has made Marine Corps boxing a force to be reckoned with, added Cline. Sanders touched a lot of lives in the boxing world, and he has helped train some of the best fighters including Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe and Ken Norton Sr.

"He is a very sought-out man. Not only is he my coach, he is my mentor," added Cline.

Upon retiring, the next step for Sanders is to enjoy family life with his three sons during the holiday season and when the weather gets warmer work on his golf skills, he joked.

"I am still going to be involved in the sport I love," he said. "I wouldn't leave if I didn't think it would be in good hands."

The job of head coach has been passed down to Master Sgt. Robert Michael, who has boxed under Sanders for about 15 years.

"I'll never truly hang up my gloves, but it all happened so fast, and now it's over. All these years the hardest part of work was waking up early. Semper Fidelis," said Sanders.