Frankie’s find

By Pete Ehrmann on June 21, 2016
Frankie’s find
“I’m after the biggest ones they got. If I ever get my growth, I ought to make them hump.”

A lot of young giants like William Vollert who drifted into the ring with visions of glory would’ve been better off doing anything else…

I was looking for something in the February 23, 1921 edition of the Kenosha (WI) Evening News on microfilm recently when a headline over a one-column story caught my eye. “Conley Finds Giant-Killer,” it blared. “Has plenty of punch,” proclaimed a subhead.

The story reported that Frankie Conley, recognized as bantamweight champion 11 years earlier and now proprietor of a gym in the city 40 miles down Lake Michigan’s west coast from Milwaukee, was over the moon about the fighting prospects of a young man he’d just started training there.

William Vollert, said the article, was “6-foot-6 in his stocking feet and he’s filled out to match. Frankie maintains that the ‘youngster’ has a punch that puts them all dizzy and that he has more speed than his weight and size would indicate.”

It went on to say that Conley “thinks that he has found a giant-killer that may be able to even cop the [heavyweight] crown from Jack Dempsey, the champion giant-killer.”

Vollert thought so, too. “I’m after the biggest ones they got,” the story quoted him. “‘If I ever get my growth,’ he added with a smile as he stretched out to his full 6-foot-10, ‘I ought to make them hump.’”

Several things are noteworthy about this besides the amazing fact that Conley’s great prospect grew four more inches in the space of a few paragraphs.

William Vollert was from Wisconsin Rapids, a city about 200 miles from Kenosha. He was born in Germany in 1899, and came to Wisconsin with his family a year later.

When the story about him appeared in the Kenosha paper, Vollert had not had a single fight. Apparently he just showed up at Conley’s gym one day and decided that boxing beat the life in Wisconsin Rapids from which he was on the lam. The heavyweight championship of the world had unmatched romantic allure in those halcyon days, and boxing was just months away from the Dempsey-Georges Carpentier title fight that resulted in the first million-dollar gate. Gyms everywhere were doubtless crammed with William Vollerts dreaming of getting some of that action.

That a total novice received such a swooning build-up — “Those who have seen (Vollert) work declare that with training under Frankie Conley he ought to be able to work up to the top-notchers among the heavyweights” — seems unreal nowadays when most newspapers scarcely devote that much ink to boxing period in a whole year’s time.

A lot of young giants like William Vollert who drifted into the ring with visions of glory would’ve been better off doing anything else. In his case it didn’t make much difference. There is no record of Vollert having even a single professional fight. The only other mention of him I can find concerns his death on August 26, 1932. The 32-year old Vollert was killed in a fight with a knife-wielding Mexican laborer on the farm that employed them near Grand Forks, North Dakota.

“Vollert, whose whereabouts have been unknown for the past seven years until relatives were informed of his tragic death, had been going under the name of Bill Sykes,” reported the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune.

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  1. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 10:06am, 06/22/2016

    No indication that he even sparred in that gym….maybe with Banty Conley…..yet he was going to kick Dempsey’s ass. If he ever did spar he more than likely got his clock cleaned and that’s probably why he ended up in that bean field on that fateful day.

  2. Pete 06:41am, 06/22/2016

    Take the day off, Clarence. It’s Forest Hill Cemetery in Wisconsin Rapids, Bob. Thanks.

  3. Bob 03:39am, 06/22/2016

    Terrific story, as usual, Pete. Perhaps our esteemed colleague, Clarence George, could find out where Mr. Volkert, aka Bill Sykes, s buried. That’s a direct challenge, Mr. George.

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