Veteran Marine Boxer returns to ring helping MC team

21 Nov 2001 | Sgt. Sharon M. Allen

At 53, one would think that William "Big Stan" Stankowski would be ready to hang up his boxing gloves, but this is just the beginning of a new era for "Ski".

Stankowski, a Bay View, Wisc. native, actively referees for the Marine Corps boxing team with Marines whom he once coached.  He is a major part of Marine Corps boxing history, having fought with about three-quarters of Marine Corps boxers at one point or another.  Throughout the Vietnam veteran's 19-year Marine Corps career, he fought with Kenny Norton, Michael Weaver and Leon Spinks, who all went on to become Heavyweight Champions of the World after their Marine Corps careers.  He also coached Terry Anderson who fought George Foreman before Foreman's bout with Evander Holyfield.

Stankowski's interest in boxing began early in life when he and his father would listen to Sugar Ray Robinson and Rocky Marcianno on the radio.  His father was also a boxer, who started "Big Stan" in the sport at the local YMCA and Boys Clubs.

January 13, 1966 Stankowski joined the Marine Corps, attended recruit training in California, then packed his bags for a short stay at Camp Lejeune.  During his stay with 8th Marine Regiment from July to September 1966, he kept up his interest in boxing after passing the field house and hearing the rattling of the speed bags.  His first coach was 1st Sgt. Ray Rogers who later coached George Foreman and Olympic athletes.  His time at Lejeune quickly came to an end when he received orders to Vietnam.

Stankowski received a silver star for his actions in Vietnam.  During one grueling battle, Pfc. Stankowski delivered rocket fire at the advancing enemy.  He refused evacuation after being critically wounded twice and continued fighting. Stankowski dragged wounded Marines to the landing zone and lead a group back through enemy fire to retrieve his platoon commander, 2nd Lt. John P. Bobo, and was evacuated after being hit a third time. 

Bobo received the Medal of Honor posthumously after his leg was severed by a mortar round, he used his belt as a tourniquet and jammed his stump into the dirt to curtail the bleeding while continuing to provide deadly fire at the enemy.  While in Vietnam, Stankowski said he taught interested Marines how to box to take their minds off of all that was going on around them.

After returning to Camp Lejeune in 1967, "Ski" kept up his interest in boxing, but didn't get on the team until he fought Cpl. Richie Royals, the World's number-one ranked fighter in the 147-pound weight class.   Until then, he didn't waste his athletic talents, and found an enjoyable alternative by playing football with 8th Marines.  In 1970, he fought on the same team as Mike Weaver while boxing at the Division Boxing Center, 8th Marine Regiment Gym, now known as Area 4 Gym.  Also in 1970, Joe Frazier came for a Christmas show and Stankowski got the opportunity to work out with Frazier. 

For the next couple of years, "Ski" went overseas and fought for the WesPac team.  Then "Big Stan" fought for the All-Marine Boxing Team from 1973 to 1975 when he also trained with Leon Spinks.  During his time with the team he also trained with Sgt Maj. Matt Hardiman who spent 18 years as the USO director after retiring from the Marine Corps.

In 1975, Stankowski became an instructor at Courthouse Bay at Engineer School but he continued to train those inspired to box on his lunch hours.  One of his corporal prot?g?s is now Sgt. Maj. Michael Cline, sergeant major of Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune.  Staff Sgt. Stankowski watched Cline box when he was a skinny 147-pound kid.  Cline said he impressed Stankowski with his power, agility and the use of the Jersey-Philly style.

"Ski's knowledge helped me progress as a Marine and a boxer," said Cline. 

Cline went on to become a member and assistant coach of the All Marine Boxing Team. 

In 1978, Stankowski moved to New River Air Station, and as an engineer, he helped put in the running track.  There he began his own boxing program, and since he was supplying the Marine Corps team with a good many of their boxers, he was asked in 1981 to come help coach the All-Marine team.  There he coached William Joseph who is now a Chief Warrant Officer with Personal Administration and Legal Services School at Camp Johnson.

"I learned a lot from him, and I am still learning from him" said Joseph.  "He encouraged me to stay out of trouble when others were helping me get into it.  My mother taught me never to quit and 'Ski' instilled it in me.  Never quit no matter the adversity.  He's an incredible man."

"I think the best experience is having your men believe in you and look up to you," said Stankowski.  "It is important to them to know you care about them, not only as an athlete but as a person."

Stankowski referred to the old saying that a mind is a terrible thing to waste, and said that he modified the saying for his athletes.

"Not everyone has the aptitude to go to college, but everyone is blessed with some kind of talent, and how you nurture it so it blossoms is on you," is what Stankowski told his Marines.  "Everything parallels.  You can't care about a person as an athlete and not care about their lifestyle and how they can improve.  I encouraged my Marines to further their boxing past the Marine Corps by teaching them that is starts now, not when they get out.  That may mean doing an extra three-mile run or extra workout to stay mentally sharp."

Stankowski remained as a coach until October 1982, when he was then called back to the engineers to work for 8th Engineer Battalion, 2d Force Service Support Group.  His commanding officer there was Capt. John Ashe, brother of tennis professional Arthur Ashe.  As the special service officer, Ashe talked the command into allowing Stankowski to become the staff noncommissioned officer in-charge of athletics, which included responsibility for tournaments.  There he got his feet wet as an athletics director, preparing him for what was to come later in life.  Until 1984, he organized and helped with all types of sports including basketball, football and naturally, boxing.  During that time, the Globe awarded him Coach of the Year.

"Just because you aren't a Marine Corps boxer, doesn't mean you can't be one," said Stankowski.

Finally, in 1985 his war injuries caught up to him, and he was medically discharged for problems with his knees.  Stankowski helped design the layout and order fitness equipment for Area 2 fitness center, and his hard work paid off with its opening the same day he was discharged.

Although Stankowski closed a chapter in his Marine Corps career, his interest in sports didn't end.  In 1988, Stankowski accepted the position of Athletic/Recreation Area Coordinator at Camp Johnson's Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools.  He continued mentoring Marines who were interested in boxing there, and his love of teaching has passed over into the civilian world.  He now teaches at an elementary school here in Onslow County and shares his knowledge with the Marine Corps boxing team as an official.  Joseph has found a life-long friend in Stankowski. 

They are both Certified USA Boxing Officials who sharpen their skills by refereeing the All Marine Boxing Teams sparring.

Throughout his 19 years of service, Stankowski's awards include the Silver Star, 16-time rifle expert, 13-time pistol expert, Purple Heart with two stars, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Good Conduct Medal with a silver star and two bronze stars, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry and the Vietnam Campaign Medal.