Schwartz was better than sport he loved

Wednesday, April 8, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Rolly Schwartz was completely out of place in boxing. No higher praise is possible.

He was a diplomat and a gentleman in a sport largely populated by slimeballs and scoundrels. He stuck out like a tuxedo at a toga party.

"When Rolly made a statement, you believed him and you knew he was going to back up what he said," Buddy LaRosa said Tuesday. "If he wanted a boxer in bed at 8 o'clock, he might be sitting outside the room with a club. He was dedication. Total dedication."

For better than half a century, Schwartz sought to bring structure to boxing, a task tantamount to holding the tide in place. He might have put his time to better use, but ignoring need was not in his nature. When he died Tuesday at 85, Cincinnati lost one of its most vital volunteers.

"Any time I needed a speaker for our caddy program, I'd call Rolly and he'd say, "I'll be there,' " Crest Hills golf pro Bob Hauer said. "Then I'd say, "But I didn't tell you when.' It didn't matter. He'd be there."

In his time, Schwartz went almost everywhere. He traveled the world on behalf of American boxing, and was received by Russian generals as if he were a visiting dignitary. He was a salesman by trade, but a missionary by mindset.

When I first met him, in 1976, Schwartz was holding a clinic for Native American boxers in Oklahoma. I was new to the Tulsa Tribune and Schwartz was fresh from USA boxing's finest hour. The American fighters won five gold medals at the Montreal Games, with Schwartz as their principal organizer. He left his mark on the team's training by leading daily three-mile runs before breakfast. He was then 62.

Schwartz was relentless about athletics, and unusually gifted. While stationed in Illinois during World War II, he won camp championships in badminton, golf and judo. Later, in England, he coached a football team comprised of Purple Heart recipients.

"At the club, he'd play golf in the morning, go for a swim, play tennis and then more golf," Hauer said. "Even when he was well into his 80s, I wouldn't even want to fake a punch at him for fear he would retaliate."

If the man had a character flaw, it was that he was sometimes more vigilant about his exercise than his etiquette. Such was Schwartz's impatience on the tee that he became renowned for hitting golf balls into groups ahead of him. He played as if he were trying to catch a plane.

Once, a club member filed a formal protest against Schwartz, only to learn the accused had been out of town. Another golfer had given Schwartz's name, on the theory he would have been the prime suspect.

Sometimes, when a man's reputation precedes him, he is left with a lot of explaining to do. Rolly Schwartz was one of those people who inevitably ingratiated himself to strangers.

"I went into a foundry with him one time in Kansas City, and I turned around and all of the furnace workers were talking to him," said Jerry Mellman, vice president of M&M Metals. "All the workers wanted to know what was going on with (Mike) Tyson."

Boxing's best friend

For the better part of three decades, whenever a Cincinnati boxing story needed expertise and insight, Rolly Schwartz was the first name you flipped to on the Rolodex. He knew the difference between talent and hype, and he knew how to turn a phrase for newspaper purposes. "He loved amateur boxing," said Pat Harmon, the retired Cincinnati Post sports editor. "I thought he was the No. 1 friend of amateur boxing of all time, in any place."

Some men invest their time in the amateurs in the hope of a payoff when a kid turns pro. So far as I know, Rolly Schwartz never made a nickel from the boxing business. When LaRosa asked him to help plot Aaron Pryor's professional career, Schwartz chose to keep his distance.

He stuck with the amateurs to help young kids get better. There is no pursuit more noble.

"When I think of Rolly Schwartz," Sugar Ray Leonard said Tuesday, "I think of class."