“Rest in Peace, Coach”
“Before a man can become a good boxer he must believe in himself. There’s no skill without confidence and no confidence without skill…”
The big man wiped the tears from his eyes with a Kleenex as he walked down the aisle of the funeral home. He was a New York City tough guy, a hard rock, and I was surprised by his open show of emotion. I had seen him battle countless times in the gym and watched him fight many brutal wars on TV. Being soft-hearted wasn’t what I expected of him.
He was Iran “The Blade” Barkley, the tough Middleweight Champion of the World and he was highly distraught—so were the well-dressed men grouped beside him in the back of Granby’s Funeral Home in the Bronx.
They had just lost someone of great importance—their coach, their friend, their father-figure—Manard Stovall. He was 78. Recently, this graceful, intelligent, and warm-hearted man had begun to lose weight and show signs of dementia. His passing was a shock.
None of these middle-aged men standing in back of the funeral home was more distraught than Dennis Milton, who, as a youth, walked into the basement of the Webster P.A.L. in the South Bronx, where he met a stern, yet likeable, Coach Stovall.
Dennis was looking to lose weight and learn karate, but after watching Coach Stovall work with a young boxer, he switched to boxing.
Ten years later, at 19, under Stovall’s tutelage, Milton became the 1981 New York City Golden Gloves Middleweight Champion. Milton would achieve that feat three more times to become a four-time Golden Gloves Middleweight Champion—a rare athletic feat.
Stovall’s influence went well beyond the New York Golden Gloves. Milton became the U.S. 156-pound amateur champion in 1982, and was a runner-up for a berth on the talented Olympic team, losing to Frank Tate in 1984.
But Stovall did more than shape Milton as a fighter—he shaped him as a man. Milton, today a successful business man, also pays it forward by training young boxers at the World Wide Boxing Club, on Jerome Avenue in the Bronx.
“Manard knew more about boxing than anyone in the world,” said Milton, smiling sadly. “He was a one-of-a-kind trainer and man. And he made boxing fun. As a kid he trained in Harlem at Salem-Crescent, so he knew all of the old-timers—Sugar Ray Robinson and George Gainford.”
Michael Brown, a Community Coordinator at The New York City Housing Authority, and a 1981 156-pound Golden Gloves Finalist who boxed for Manard said, “He was so smooth. He was a total gentleman who gave equal time to anybody who walked through the door. He listened to you and took care of you.”
“I hated Manard Stovall,” said Iran Barkley, wiping away a tear. “And I hated Dennis Milton, too. Nah, Dennis and me didn’t like each other back then. Manard taught Dennis too good and he beat me in the Gloves finals. I couldn’t catch him. He had those fast feet and fast hands. That was Manard’s doing. But Dennis and me be good friends now.”
Chris Pignone, a Mount Vernon housing director, and a man who coached alongside Stovall, said, “I always respected Manard for protecting his fighters. He was the most honest guy I’ve ever seen in boxing. It was never about the money.”
With regard to Stovall’s penchant for protecting his fighters, he is reminiscent of Clint Eastwood as Frankie Dunn, a gruff but well-meaning elderly boxing trainer in the Oscar-winning 2004 film, Million Dollar Baby.
Manard never won a Hollywood Oscar, but the number of New York City Golden Glove champions he has developed are too many to count.
As an ex-boxer, and one of New York City’s premier trainers in the 1970s to 2000, Stovall’s physical prowess and delicate human insight had always enabled him to inspire young boys who desperately needed inspiration. Shy by nature, Stovall understood that some kids could use a boxing ring the way others use psychoanalysis.
He once said, “Before a man can become a good boxer he must believe in himself. There’s no skill without confidence and no confidence without skill.”
Manard was born on May 16, 1938 to Hattie Stovall Wilson in Littleton, North Carolina. At a very early age he relocated to New York and attended public school in Manhattan. After living in Harlem for a few years he relocated to the Bronx and became a long-time resident of Co-op City and enjoyed his career in the New York City Parks Department as supervisor from which he retired after 30 years.
Michael Brown recalls Manard with the utmost fondness. “He never put me in harm’s way where some guy would work me over in the ring. And later, as I developed my skills, he’d instruct me to take it easy on the young guys below me. He always told us: You never profit by being a bully.”
A distraught Noel Renaghan, a former middleweight, and now teacher at Saunders Trades and Technical High School in Yonkers, agreed with all of the tributes bestowed upon Stovall. He was too saddened to speak about his loss.
New York City needs more honest, respectable and dedicated men like Manard Stovall. He was a man who epitomized, through the sport of boxing, the tough grace and style and confidence of an entire generation.
A fifteen-year-old Davey Moore found his “manard stovall” in Coach Leon Washington. Young Mark Breland and a rowdy Riddick Bowe found their “manard Stovall” in Coach George Washington. An eleven-year-old Alex Ramos found his “manard Stovall” in both Luis Camacho and Lenny DeJesus. Mike Tyson found his “maynard Stovall” in Cus D’Amato.
Yes, there are many “manard stovalls” in New York City—but none like boxing coach, Manard Stovall, a man who had plenty to teach, about style, grace, intelligence and heart.
Peter Wood is a 1971 NYC Golden Gloves Middleweight Finalist in Madison Square Garden; a Middleweight Alternate for The Maccabean Games in Tel Aviv, Israel, and author of two books: Confessions of a Fighter, and A Clenched Fist—The Making of a Golden Gloves Champion, published by Ringside Books.