Sports

Ref the winner by decision

Award-winning referee Bruce Carrington  with Carol Skanks and boxing official John O’Shea. - Contributed
Award-winning referee Bruce Carrington with Carol Skanks and boxing official John O’Shea.
— image credit: Contributed

Bruce Carrington would have been Pops’ choice, too.

He was the first winner of the award to memorialize local boxing guru John ‘Pops’ Skanks. It will be given to an outstanding member of the B.C. boxing community each year.

Long before he was a ref, Carrington was a relentless southpaw who boxed for Team Canada, and the late Skanks was his trainer.

Carrington was a latecomer to pugilism, 21 when he started boxing seriously.

“It was good for me, personally. At that age ,I knew how to dedicate myself.”

He had always been an athlete, playing basketball for legendary high school coach Rich Goulet, and hardball on teams with Canada’s most famous player, Larry Walker.

But he had suffered a broken leg, and in the period of inactivity packed on a lot of weight. The tough workouts that fighters do saw it melting away, which was motivating.

As an athlete, he liked that in the ring, he owned the result.

“With team sports, you could have the best game of your life, but still lose. It’s a little hard to take,” he said.

His father had died when he was 17, and Skanks filled a void.

“He focussed me, and he was easy to talk with.”

If boxing is indeed “the sweet science,” then he had a PhD. The sport came naturally.

Being left handed is an advantage – it crosses up the defence of other fighters. Drown southpaws at birth, boxers used to say.

If that didn’t throw them, the third-round barrage they had to endure was a shocker. Carrington had fast hands, and the endurance of a Kenyan marathoner. If he hadn’t lost by the third round, more often than not he was going to take over.

His highlights were many. He fought in Moscow’s Red Square in communist Russia at the world championships, and in an outdoor arena in the Bahamas. He saw Bulgaria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Ireland and many other countries.

“I met a lot of great people,” he said. “I wish Facebook had been around when I was doing it.”

Skanks took him to the prestigious Blue and Gold amateur tournament in California, and he won his weight class four years in a row – an unprecedented feat.

“It was a fun run. A lot of days I miss it.”

He was close to fighting on the sport’s biggest stage. Battling for a place in the 1992 Olympics, Chris Johnson beat him, then went on to win a bronze medal.

A controversial judging decision set him on a new path. A big win, decided and announced, was later changed to a disqualification.

“I felt jaded,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I got into refereeing – I want it to be fair,” he said.

“John bugged me to become a ref. He figured I’d be good at it.”

He has become the Mills Lane of B.C. boxing, one of the most qualified officials in Canada, and now he travels the boxing world as a referee.

He knows who fighters are, but once they are in the ring, he doesn’t care. Sometimes there’s a lot at stake, like a berth in the Commonwealth Games, or even the Olympics. Everyone deserves a fair shot.

“I see red, and I see blue.”

Last year he was in Venezuela for a large women’s event. He has been to Turkey and Germany recently –

“Every year I get at least one good trip.”

There are days he gets yelled at, and asks himself why he signed up for such abuse. Then there are other days when a young boxer will come up and ask whether he is doing their match, and when they find out he is, they do a fist pump.

“They like to know what they’re going to get.”

Carrington was reffing at the B.C. championships, and after the last fight of the night, Carol Skanks was suddenly climbing between the ropes.

“Why is Carol getting in the ring,” he thought.

She was to present the award, along with John O’Shea of Boxing B.C.  Carrington had no idea he had been selected for the honour.

“Not at all – it was a nice surprise.”

His selection was made by a committee that included coaches from around the province.

“It meant a lot.”

Carrington got to keep a smaller trophy, and a great big cup. He took the latter back to the local club to show the guys. He was elated to see many of his old training partners, back with the club as coaches.

“It feels like going home.”

Carol Skanks was grateful the committee made such an appropriate selection for the first award.

“I was over the moon,” she said. “I have the highest regard for Bruce, and John was like a surrogate father to him.

“John would be extremely happy that he was the first one to be recognized.”

 

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