Tim Adams said he didn’t know he was a boxing champ’s son until a stranger turned up at his house and began telling stories.
“This man, he knew my father from the boxing days, and he had so many good things to say about my father,” Adams recalled. “It was just unbelievable. And I’m sitting there sucking all this in and in at the time, I’m telling myself, ‘I think I want to be a Golden Gloves champion.’”
Adams said learning that his father, George, was the 1943 Golden Gloves champion inspired him to take a swing at boxing himself as a teenager.
“My training was at home in the basement,” Adams said, “and my father, we built our own little gym down there, and that is where I started training.”
Adams entered the Chicago Golden Gloves tournament in 1970 as a novice, and he finished second.
“’72, I came back,” Adams said, “and then I won my first Golden Glove championship. So I had achieved that and the Lord said, ‘Well, you got two hands.’ So ‘73, I won my second Golden Glove championship.”
He also won the Park District and CYO titles the same year, known as the Triple Crown.
Around the same time Adams was becoming a king in the ring, flyweight Frank Smith was making his own history. In 1973, Smith won the Chicago Golden Gloves flyweight title. In 1974, he won the bantamweight title. And in 1975, as a 125-pound 18-year-old, he managed an unprecedented feat.
“I fought this kid by the name of Jesse Martin,” Smith said. “He was a kid with muscles, I mean, he was buff. And I was this little skinny kid. When I take off my robe, everybody in the audience, you can hear ‘em all saying, ‘This little skinny kid’s gonna get his butt whooped.’”
That little skinny kid wound up winning the whole thing. He became the first fighter in the history of the Chicago Golden Gloves to win three titles in three years in three different weight classes. This year, Adams and Smith will be inducted into the Chicago Golden Gloves Hall of Fame as the tournament marks 100 years since the Chicago Tribune sponsored the first competition in 1923.
Adams said when he was a Chicago kid himself, boxing was a big deal.
“This is what kids talked about in the neighborhood — who was a Golden Glove champion?” Adams said. “What fighter did this? So those were exciting times talking with friends about that, and all the time in the back of my mind is, ‘I’m gonna do this.’ Just to hear on the street, ‘Hey, did you see fight the other day, man, Adams?’ That’s big-time stuff.”
Smith credits boxing — and the men who coached him — for keeping him on the straight and narrow when he began boxing at age 11.
“My mom was a single parent raising four boys,” Smith said, “and she decided that I need to go and find some extra curriculum besides, you know, getting into trouble. So she took me up to Mr. Ferguson, which was the boxing coach at Wentworth Gardens facilities. And trust me, it worked because I could have went the other way. So he saved my life. Boxing saved my life.”
After his days in the ring were done, Smith went on to do the same for thousands of kids and teenagers, showing them the ropes as a Chicago Park District boxing coach. Adams stayed in the fight, too, building a decades-long career as a boxing referee.
Though they both hung up their gloves long ago, Adams and Smith said they still look at their boxing days as a golden time.
“It made you feel like you were somebody; you’re a champion.” Adams said.
“It’s humbling, but it’s also gratifying,” Smith said. “It’s in my blood.”
The Chicago Golden Gloves 100th boxing tournament begins this weekend, and championship rounds are April 13-15. Tickets and information can be found on the Golden Gloves website.