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The rise and fall of the Golden Gloves: Part II

Golden Gloves
Karl Gehring/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Once the pride of New York, the Golden Gloves tournament would ultimately meet a sad end. In the second instalment of our four-part investigation into its demise, Jack Hirsch examines claims that Brian Adams was to blame and details some nasty treatment dished out to Mark Breland

BRIAN ADAMS was no stranger to the New York Golden Gloves, having been a three-time champion in the 132lb division in the 1990s.

As a professional he won the New York State lightweight title and works as a commentator on the Broadway Boxing series which is promoted by Lou DiBella.

Adams is a fixture at professional boxing shows. He is well liked in that environment and has developed numerous friendships with some of the biggest names in boxing. Considering his background, Adams was a popular choice when the Daily News Charities (DNC) asked him to run the tournament, but unbeknownst to him he was walking into a thankless job in which he would be constantly forced to respond to the demands of others.

How Adams handled those demands is up for debate.

During the course of this investigation it is interesting to note that those who represented Metro not only had issues with the DNC, but revealed differences within their own ranks as well. The DNC did as well, but it would seem to a lesser degree. What was a common denominator though was the inflexibility Adams was said to display.

Even Adams’ harshest critics do not question his integrity, but rather his methods. Frankie Pena, who has worked in various capacities in amateur programmes, and runs the Howard Davis Boxing Club in Glen Cove, Long Island, says, “Brian went about things in a nasty way. If the coaches had a problem he would not try to resolve it.”

Bill Farrell, who wrote the book, Cradle Of Champions: 80 Years Of New York Daily News Golden Gloves, had as good a view as any from the Daily News’ position, having been the beat writer for the tournament from 1987 to 2005. After leaving his journalist’s role, as a favour to the Daily News he stayed on to assist Adams as a consultant until 2011.

“I loved the energy kids showed trying to fulfill their dreams,” says Farrell. “Putting on a show takes manpower, but as the years went by we were getting less and less boxers to participate. At the same time that interest was dwindling, the Metros were trying to take control of the tournament, creating a tug of war between the Daily News and USA Boxing. The Daily News was losing money and felt the financial stress of the tournament. Brian’s inflexibility was not helpful. When it came to the finals Brian was unreasonably tight with the tickets that should have been given to various clubs. It was Brian’s way or the highway.”

Unhappy with the perceived lack of cooperation from the DNC, a meeting of the various coaches was held at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. Pat Russo a New York City Police officer is the director of the New York City Cops N Kids Programme which oversees three gyms, two in Staten Island and another in Brooklyn. Many coaches work under his supervision, but Russo denies any personal involvement in the meeting that was said to be like a coup where ways to put the DNC out of business were discussed. It was motivated in large part by the dislike the coaches had for Adams.

Bruce Silverglade, the long-time owner of Gleason’s and a past Metro president, was not privy to the particular meeting in question, but would not have been as adversarial toward Adams had he. “I have dealt with Brian for years and never had a problem with him,” says Silverglade, “but there was also a monetary issue between the Daily News charities and the Metropolitan Association. The way things work is that the rules are set by the Metropolitan Association’s national office for USA Boxing in Colorado. The Daily News then puts in for a sanction to follow the rules.

“The Daily News raised money from putting on the tournament and the Metropolitan Association felt they should have been given that to reimburse their expenses. Essentially what they wanted was more control and money.”

According to various officials from Metro, Adams’ indifference to coaches and their fighters played a huge role in the toxic atmosphere which carried over from arena to arena. It is something Adams vehemently denies.

“All I did was enforce the rules,” he claims. Then, in a refreshing display of honesty, Adams admits to some fault in the beginning. “The first couple of years I took over the tournament I did some favours for people. When I then saw that was to be expected I stopped. I made up my mind that everyone was going to be treated the same no matter who they were. If the weigh-in was scheduled from between 4:30-6:30 and the fighter came in at 6:45 then he would not be weighed. It could be a big name like Danny Jacobs or anyone else, it did not matter. Everyone was going to be treated the same.

“Coaches wanted their fighters only fighting on certain nights. I told them no, because if I do it for you I have to do it for everyone else.

“Guys wanted to change the rules. Before the tournament the boxer had to submit the names on an application of two people who would be allowed to work his corner. Those guys would then have to be his cornermen for the duration of the tournament. But we would have instances where one of the cornermen would not show and the boxer would want to substitute him with someone else. I would not allow that because it was against the rules.

“Pat Russo wanted three of his guys to box on the same night because it was more convenient for him and his coaches. He once wanted a trainer in the corner who was not registered and certified. I told him I can’t do that. Trainers complained, but when I once called a meeting to air out our differences only a few of them showed.”

Russo, who won the Good Guy award from Ring8 NY in December 2018 for his work with the amateurs, carefully avoided saying anything negative about Adams when interviewed, but their relationship was acrimonious by all accounts. Both at one time butted heads trying to enlist the support of Teddy Atlas. The current Cops N Kids programme run by Russo was formerly known as Atlas Cops N Kids, a highly successful programme that produced 2012 USA Olympian and current light-heavyweight contender, Marcus Browne, among others.

Attorney David Berlin, the former chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission and a board member of the Atlas foundation, explains: “Pat Russo had approached Teddy Atlas because the PAL (Police Athletic League) had discontinued boxing. Teddy agreed to work with Pat and create programmes for young amateur boxers to see they did the right thing. The Atlas foundation had funded it, but it had nothing to do with the Golden Gloves when we stopped. We had decided that funding was needed elsewhere.”

The evidence points to Atlas having been caught in the crossfire. He respected the work Russo was doing, but was also a close friend of Adams, whose integrity he had faith in.

“Russo was a problem because I would not do favours for him,” says Adams. “Russo would call Teddy to complain, but Teddy knew my character.”

Atlas, known to never back away from a confrontation, took a pass on this personality conflict.

To run a tournament in New York, it is required that a licensed gym or club sponsor it. The Daily News Charities was neither. But there was a feeling within the DNC ranks that Metro was using their adversarial relationship with Adams as an excuse not to sanction the New York Golden Gloves even if that was not the real reason.

“They were okay with the Daily News continuing to attach its name to the tournament as long as Metro kept all the sponsorship fees,” a source familiar with the inner workings opined.

Said Berlin, “Brian Adams did approach the Atlas Foundation and asked could we sponsor the Daily News Tournament, but for whatever reason it did not pan out. Brian could be tough to deal with, but in his position he had to be.”

Sonya Lamonakis is a former Metro president and its current vice president. A schoolteacher from Queens, Lamonakis is a four-time New York Golden Gloves champion (2006-2009) in the female heavyweight division. She boxed professionally as well, enjoying some success. For a time, Lamonakis was the face of Metro, but might not have cherished being put in that position.

When contacted for this story, Lomonakas said in an authoritative voice, “be sure to get your facts straight.”

But outside of referring us to someone else who she thought would be helpful, Lamonakis was reluctant to speak on or off the record. It was that reluctance which puzzled those on the DNC side during the height of tensions while she held the Metro presidency. Despite her role, she rarely spoke on the Metro’s behalf, instead leaving that to others.

Mark Breland, once the Golden Gloves golden boy, was left with a sour taste in his mouth when he returned to his old stomping ground as a trainer. Breland was emotional when he described having been removed from the corner during the Ring Masters finals. Those who witnessed it were both angry and embarrassed by what transpired. Breland is a Golden Gloves legend who is as popular to amateur boxing fans in New York, as Derek Jeter is to New York Yankee baseball aficionados.

Mark Breland
Getty Images

Breland reluctantly recalled the unpleasant evening. “They said I didn’t have one of the credentials, that I didn’t have a card. One of my guys [Dominique Crowder] was fighting at the Felt Forum [Hulu Theater], and I was in his corner when they told me to get out. I just laughed, then left, it was so ridiculous. The people at ringside looked on in amazement over what was happening.”

It is well known how close Adams and Breland are. “Like family,” Adams says. In fact, Breland trained Adams when he boxed professionally. “What happened to Mark was because of his relationship with me. Mark was working the corner all tournament and no one said a thing, then suddenly they removed him after the fight started. They were getting back at me through him,” Adams claims. “One-hundred per cent” agreed Breland.

Russo does not go along with the reasoning, but nevertheless agrees it is something that never should have happened. “It looked terrible. Mark is a gentleman and an institution to the Golden Gloves. It should have been handled better.”

Deni Auclair, who has held a variety of positions within amateur boxing for the past 36 years, admits to being the official from Metro who asked Breland to leave. “I removed him from the corner because he had yet to take The Safe Sport certification course,” she says. “Until then your registration [to coach] is not complete. I have pulled plenty of coaches out of corners because they were not registered. It had nothing at all to do with Brian. If someone got hurt and there was an unregistered person we could have gotten sued.” 

With all due respect to Auclair, by that point legalities were too complicated to act upon, being that the match was already underway. Removing Breland from the corner at that point probably put his fighter under greater peril than had they left him there. Then there is the issue of why Breland was not told beforehand that he couldn’t be in the corner? He had to have been in the dressing room, visible for everyone to see in the lead-up to the match. Breland should have been spoken to in private which would have avoided the whole fiasco.

The Safe Sport certification course was inspired by the conviction of the former USA Gymnastics coach, Larry Nasser, who was convicted and sentenced to 175 years in prison related to sex abuse crimes. “It’s a necessary course to take,” says Russo, who knows as well as anyone considering his career in law enforcement. “After you take it you can see how a predator could sneak into our programme.”

Breland claims to have been turned away from another show when Metro officials said he didn’t have the proper credentials when he tried to enter the arena. Being that no one he was training was boxing on the show, Breland says he elected to walk out rather than try to resolve the situation. “It bothered me then, but not anymore. I know how the people are who are running it. It was no one in particular, it was the whole crew.” No one we reached out to at Metro had any recollection of that other show in question. “Brian Adams is a good guy, he wanted to run the tournament the right way,” says Breland.

TO read part one of the series, click here.

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