A new John Skanks Memorial Trophy, to be given to an outstanding member of the boxing community in B.C. each year, is in the works.
Skanks, founder and head coach of the Maple Ridge Boxing club, passed away last month at the age of 85. He was known in boxing circles across Canada, and trained athletes who fought internationally.
But it was in his focus on developing character that made him memorable.
“He gave the guys confidence, a sense of self-worth, the will to be committed and follow through, and a strong sense of ethics,” said his wife Carol.
“It’s better to build the boy than to mend the man” – that was one of his favourite sayings.
Along with, ‘As the bough is bent, so grows the tree.’”
Father figure is not too strong a term, said Carol.
“They used to call him Pops,” she remembers. “And me Mumsy, for some reason.”
For the boxers he trained, he was a friend, a mentor and a coach.
For others, he ran a gym that gave a t-shirt drenching workout. That attracted a wide range of people, from fitness instructors and RCMP officers to hockey prospects.
Skanks’ father had been a fight promoter working out of Cabbage Town in Toronto. Both John and his late brother Robert learned to fight.
“Boxing has always been his passion,” said Carol. “He had a love for it, and a desire to do it.”
The boxing culture he created in Maple Ridge soon saw a Haney flavor infused on both Team B.C. and the national team.
“In the ’80s, the Maple Ridge Boxing Club was one to be contended with,” said Carol.
Rick Funk trained with him as a fighter, and was amazed by Skanks’ dedication.
“He devoted himself 100 per cent to boxing,” Funk said. “He was a great trainer. He took me to another level.”
Funk is helping out at the club now, and he sees Skanks coming out of him in little ways. Like when he is showing a fighter something, he might actually hit the guy a bit, the way John used to hit him.
“It hurt a bit,” he laughs.
“We were a little bit like a father and son.”
He was a Canadian under-19 lightweight champion, and also won silver twice. Funk battled his way to the quarter-finals of the world championships, and remembers all the great wins the club’s fighters had.
“In the late 1980s, we had a dynasty club.”
One of the best was Bruce Carrington, who was a world class middleweight and light heavyweight from 1987-1994, who placed eighth a the 1989 world championships in Moscow.
In a memorial to his old coach, Carrington said, “John was selfless in his devotion to the boxers and his commitment to the Maple Ridge Boxing Club.”
Carrington has gone on to become a Level 5 official, qualified to referee the sport at its highest levels.
“He was a very unique man, and pretty much a father figure to me,” Bill Drewitt said of Skanks.
The highlight of his boxing career was fighting his way to the final of the prestigious Blue and Gold tournament in California. After all the American fighters had gone by the wayside, he met fellow Maple Ridge fighter Carrington in the championship bout. The talented Carrington won, and took gold at the Blue and Gold four straight years.
Drewitt and twin brother Rob both fought. Now they run a business together, West Gasco, which provides welding equipment.
He credits Skanks for giving him life skills that have made them successful in business – treating people the way they want to be treated, and being self motivated.
Skanks was well recognized. He was inducted into the Ridge Meadows Hall of Fame in 2004, and was recognized by his peers in the boxing community with the Harold Mann Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. He called it his Stanley Cup.
Carol is happy that John will be memorialized with a trophy each year.
“I think that is the best possible way to recognize him for the 30-plus year sof owrk he did with the club, and various kids.”