Friday, December 13, 2002

Obituary: Clifford Whigham, gym owner


He trained young boxers, helped kids' self-esteem

By Nicole Hamilton
The Cincinnati Enquirer

When Clifford Whigham was 9, boxer Ezzard Charles would pay him a nickel to carry his bags three blocks to the old Findlay Street Gym where he practiced.

The heavyweight champion left a lasting impression on the young Mr. Whigham, who grew up on Livingston Avenue in Over-the-Rhine.

In 1996, Mr. Whigham returned to the old neighborhood to open his own gym, Champs, to help the young people in the area boost their self-esteem and confidence through boxing.

Mr. Whigham died in his sleep Dec. 6 at his Evanston home. He was 54.

"He was outgoing and outspoken," said his sister Barbara Fogman of College Hill. "Whatever he wanted, he'd go for it. He was always smiling and always laughing."

Champs Gym was sponsored by Cincinnati Home of Champions Inc., a group Mr. Whigham founded with his son Clifford Jr.

It was a labor of love.

Mr. Whigham and his son spent thousands of dollars renovating the office space at 17th and Elm streets into a gym. It opened Nov. 1, 1996, with a party honoring Buddy LaRosa. Former heavyweight champion Tony Tubbs and former junior welterweight champion Aaron Pryor were in attendance.

The gym became a spot for Over-the-Rhine youth to escape the lures of the streets. Many came six or seven days a week. Inside, they trained to become professional boxers.

Mr. Whigham graduated from Hughes High School in 1968. He attended business and law classes at the University of Cincinnati for two years.

He managed jazz and R&B groups like Gray Matters and High Times for 15 years. He also worked with mentally handicapped adults in group homes including the Star Center and We Care Homes.

About three years ago, Mr. Whigham closed Champs Gym and began working at a youth boxing program in Winton Terrace. Most recently, he was teaching boxing at Shamrock Boxing Inc. in Covington.

Besides his son Clifford Jr., of Kennedy Heights, and sister Barbara, other survivors include two daughters, Brandi Merritt of Mount Auburn and Alexis Whigham of Roselawn; another son, Jaylin of Evanston; another sister, Phyllis Whigham of Silverton; three grandchildren; and special friend Janice Donegan of Evanston.

Visitation is 6-7 p.m. today at Hall-Jordan & Thompson Funeral Home, 11400 Winton Road, Forest Park.

Service will immediately follow visitation at the funeral home. Burial will be in Dayton National Cemetery.

Memorials: Shamrock Boxing Inc., 811 Madison Road, Covington, KY 41011.

E-mail nhamilton@enquirer.com




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