Boxing bonds father, son
The name always meant
more than its five letters. It carried a reputation and lofty
expectations. In Lincoln, the name raised
fists, symbolized toughness and defined excellence.
The 1940s read
like a who's who of boxing history. Joe Lewis was The Champ.
Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LeMotta made headlines and thrilled
In Nebraska, Larry Emery was Mr. Boxing, and he came
tantalizingly close to writing his own name into the annals of
the sport, just missing the Olympics and a possible professional
While some men crunched numbers or punched timecards, Emery
knocked out challengers as an amateur fighter and then trained
teams of boxers who won 12 Southeast Nebraska and four Midwest
Golden Glove championships.
He and his
wife, Jody, had their first son in 1951. Although Larry stopped
fighting two years later, his reputation followed the boy like a
shadow boxer on the wall.
When you're Larry's kid and the only thing that kept your dad
out of the 1952 Helsinki Olympics was future heavyweight
champion Floyd Patterson, the expectations ratchet up a few
The name puts a target on your back when the kids in middle
school are looking for a fight. It creates expectations that
make finding a niche even more elusive for a teenager who just
wants to fit in.
Most kids grow up with fathers whose names wouldn't raise an
eyebrow outside their own kitchens. Before Doug Emery was out of
diapers, he was a walking effigy to one of the best amateur
boxers in Nebraska history.
The pressure was enough to delay a young boxer's entry into the
sport. Every time he stepped in the ring, Doug squared off
against more than another fighter.
"The weight of the name just got too big to carry around for a
During one of his first sessions in a boxing gym, Larry Emery
punished a heavy bag as a few coaches watched. His fists
battered the bag like two gloved missiles, landing one after the
other. He felt anger rise with each blow to the bag as he
remembered a fatherless childhood.
He kept punching, hoping to erase two assault and battery
charges that left him with the choice of becoming a boxer or
being sent to the Boy's Training School in Kearney.
He'd been arrested a few times for street fighting in his late
teens. Lancaster County Attorney Fritz Wagner told Larry he was
tired of the teen "smelling the bar rag and thinking he was Jack
Dempsey." The prosecutor sent the 18-year-old to Lloyd Perry,
who coached boxing at the downtown YMCA.
Long before he was a boxer, however, Larry Emery was a target.
In Albion, where he was born and lived with his grandmother
following his parent's divorce, he was an easy victim of
playground bullies. Because his grandmother prohibited him from
getting into school fights, he took the constant harassment.
In the sixth-grade, he moved to Lincoln to rejoin his mother
and, without his grandmother's restraints, he started fighting
back — and never quit.
He hardened his fists defending a northeast Lincoln street
corner where he hawked the Sunday Lincoln Star during the
Depression. Woe was the entrepreneur who threatened Emery's
balance of supply and demand.
He eventually progressed to throwing back a few beers in Lincoln
taverns before throwing a few punches in bar fights.
Back in the YMCA gym, auditioning for his fate in front of the
coaches, he punched the memories of all those kids who picked on
him when he couldn't defend himself. He pounded until the
punches sent tingling sensations up his arm and into his lower
back. His fists fired in succession like high-powered pistons
until there was a small release of air — the bag had finally
relented. The coaches looked in disbelief at the deflated heavy
bag and the newcomer standing before it.
Larry Emery wouldn't be going to Kearney.
Once he'd established himself as a boxer, he returned to Albion
for an amateur boxing card. The welterweight knocked out his
opponent and as he exited the building, Emery came face to face
with one of his childhood tormentors.
The curious who knew the significance of the encounter stood
quietly nearby, watching past and present collide. Emery's pulse
quickened as he remembered the times when he couldn't fight back
and even the weakest kid in the neighborhood pushed him around.
He asked the son of a bitch if he wanted to push him around that
night like he had in grade school. After what the former bully
had seen in the ring, he wisely stepped down.
"You could hear a pin drop in that place," Emery remembered. "I
carried that hatred with me for a long time; it wasn't pretty
In the 1940s, Larry Emery mowed through opponents and became a
boxing institution in Southeast Nebraska.
Boxing was different then. Fighters today punch like they're
tapping a hot stove — they jab and run up points in hopes of
winning decisions. In the days of Joe Lewis and Rocky Marciano,
the only way to ensure a victory was to put your opponent on the
canvas and keep him there.
Standing eight counts didn't exist and neutral corners were only
mentioned in rule books. If fighters fell, they had better get
up ready to go. Their opponent probably pressed the referee's
back, waiting to finish off them off. The only way out of the
ring in those days was a 10-second detour to the canvas.
Emery's right hand was his greatest weapon — it made up for the
lack of conditioning that sometimes plagued him. No matter how
far behind he fell in a fight, he was always one right hand away
from a knockout.
"Power is a God-given gift," he said. "You can work with
somebody and improve on it, but power is something you're born
with. If I could hit you with a right hand, you weren't going to
Emery used that right well as he advanced through
competition at the Olympic Trials. He and a rangy fighter from
Omaha named Eddie Anderson put opponents on their backs with
regularity and finally met in the finals.
The two traded shots under the hot ring lights of Pershing
Auditorium. Midway through the fight, Larry threw his trademark
punch, which caught Anderson across the chin, locked his knees
and sent him sprawling.
"I can still see the rosin from the canvas rising in the air."
Doug Emery started boxing as a 5-year-old. He and another young
boxer would trade punches for three, one-minute rounds between
fights at the 4-H Building at the State Fairgrounds. The bulky
gloves looked like oven mits on stick figures.
His father had already moved on to coaching by the time Doug was
old enough to lace up a pair of gloves. The Emery basement
turned into a mini-gym with boxers coming and going throughout
the day. One side had wood paneling and a heavy bag hanging from
the floor joists. Doug often watched from the basement steps as
fighters boxed shadows on cinderblock walls.
The elder Emery never exerted pressure on his son to get into
the ring. He knew there would be expectations from the first
punch. He'd be fighting his opponent and the notions of
strangers sitting in the darkened auditorium. A win meant more
expectations. Each loss would send the name to the canvas.
Junior boxing opportunities in Lincoln were limited then and
Doug focused on wrestling and cross-country at Lincoln
Northeast. But success in other sports didn't diminish the
importance of boxing to his family.
If he started boxing again, he'd have to give up wrestling.
Finally, in 1969, he had his mother sign the waiver for the
Southeast Nebraska Golden Gloves tournament because he was
afraid his father would talk him out of fighting.
Larry worked as a traveling salesman and had been out of town
two nights before the tournament started at Pershing Auditorium.
Before the night was over, he saw his son beat Dale Stroud to
earn a trip to the Midwestern Golden Gloves in Omaha.
In Omaha, Doug drew Tommy Cisneros, a skilled boxer from
Scottsbluff who had more than 115 fights to his credit and
eventually won three Midwest Golden Gloves titles during his
Larry didn't want his son to fight. He had coached Cisneros a
few years earlier, helping develop the style that would soon be
unleashed on his son. He knew that although Cisneros didn't hit
hard, he was quick, technically sound and would easily win a
Larry told Doug he didn't have to fight, that he'd send him back
on Interstate 80, tell the officials he'd hurt his hand or
twisted a knee in an earlier fight.
But leaving wasn't an option. Doug had worked too hard training
for the fight. Any haymaker couldn't equal the pain of
getting that far only to quit before the fight and tarnish the
The house lights dimmed and the ring lights came up. Nearly
7,000 people crammed into the building to watch fighters batter
one another for three rounds. Doug came out swinging with the
bell; pummeling Cisneros like his heart would stop if he stopped
Fighting those five letters — swinging at those damn
Cisneros glided around the ring like everybody knew he would,
landing punches before slipping out of Doug's range. Always
moving. Doug kept swinging, hoping his fist would find the sweet
spot on Cisneros' chin and end the fight.
"If the lights had gone out and I grabbed a chair, I might've
won that fight," Doug said. "It was clear we could've been in
there for a long time, and he wasn't going to lose to me."
Midway through the third round Cisneros threw a punch that
caught Doug off balance and put him down. He got a standing
eight count and the referee stopped the fight.
He had entered the ring an 18-year-old high school senior at the
intersection of adolescence and manhood. He left the ring
bruised and beaten, but as the applause flowed from the crowd,
he also left with an identity.
Sometimes defining moments don't end with victory celebrations.
"If that was his intention, to impress anybody, he got the job
done," Larry said. "I think a lot of it was for himself, too."
Some juniors were fighting in Greenwood, and Larry Emery needed
an official. He called his son, who by then had hung up his
gloves and was working for the U.S. Postal Service.
As they made the short drive, Larry passed along simple
Larry stood ringside and passed along advice between rounds.
After the first tournament, Doug started traveling with his
father to fights in North Platte, Columbus and others. He
gained experience and learned technique. His ego also took a
Car rides home in the dark became critique sessions as time and
mile markers passed. Doug began to wonder if he was cut out for
"I'd been critiqued for 130 miles and one of the things he said
was, ‘If you're going to go to a national tournament and carry
my name, you'd better do it right.'"
A 4-by-6-inch, black-and-white picture hangs on the wall in Doug
A Knoxville photographer in the upper deck listened as the
referees were announced before a round at the 1987 National
Golden Gloves tournament. Larry was in ring two. Doug was in
At the national tournament, fights run continuously in three
different rings. Once a fight ends, the next begins a few
A few father/son referee combinations had worked at the same
national tournaments, but never simultaneously until that day.
The photographer didn't catch Doug's smile when the ring
assignments were announced. The camera couldn't document the
pride that welled inside Larry. Sometime between rounds father
and son briefly locked eyes and smiled.
But the photo did show two generations at a crossroads — one a
fading ex-champ on his way out, the other a promising referee
just hitting his stride. After all the junior fights and the
criticism between Lincoln and any-town Nebraska, he wasn't
Larry's kid anymore.
"It probably meant more to me than it did him," Larry said.
The picture hangs in the middle of Doug's wall, surrounded by
several awards and other photos. Images of him smiling with
Muhammad Ali, Evander Holyfield and Oscar de la Hoya sit on a
table in the corner of the office.
"That is one of the most cherished pictures I have," Doug said,
referring to the one of him and his father. "There was a long
time where I didn't appreciate being Larry's son."
In 2000, Doug was in Scranton, Pa., applying to become an
internationally licensed boxing official.
The process is known as "hell week" and puts candidates through
a regimen of tests. Only the top two are eligible to work the
Olympics and other International events. In Scranton, 12 of the
top 24 officials in the United States competed for the two
An international judge critiques each referee as he works
several matches during the week. If the evaluator sees a hold
and the official doesn't call it quickly enough, it could ruin
his chances. The top two referees often become certified by just
fractions of a point.
Everything came together that weekend. Doug was firm and
decisive in the ring and left Pennsylvania as an internationally
licensed boxing referee.
Finally, he achieved something all his own.
"When you test for IEBA, they don't know who Larry Emery is,"
Doug said. "I no longer feel like I have to validate who I am."
Since being certified in 2000, Doug has worked tournaments in
Cuba, Germany and other countries. He also served as a
timekeeper at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and was named USA
Boxing Official of the Year in 2002.
He's one of the most seasoned officials in USA Boxing, America's
Olympic boxing organization. During the 1990s, Doug refereed
nearly every boxer who later turned professional. He reffed
Oscar de la Hoya and Shane Mosley before they earned $20 million
The difference between a good referee and a great referee is
subtle. Anybody can call break or deduct points. The best know
when to stop a fight without embarrassing a fighter. They see
that little wobble in the knee, the first giveaway a boxer hurts
more than he's letting on.
Like a fighter, each referee has his own style developed from
the people who helped him through the small bouts in places like
Aurora and McCool Junction.
"I have met a lot of people who have helped me develop my
style," Doug said. "But the nuts and bolts of that style were my
Larry and Jody drove to Kansas City last May for the National
Golden Gloves. After they arrived and settled into their hotel,
Larry made some calls to see if he could secure passes for the
Word started making its way up the chain: Doug's dad was looking
for two tickets.
Recently, while Larry was working as an event staff member at
Memorial Stadium, Doug was refereeing the U.S. Military Boxing
Championships in Arizona. Next year, he'll go to South Africa
for the World Boxing Championships.
It's been nearly 25 years since Doug became a referee. It's been
twice as long since Larry made the Emery name with a hard jaw
and a harder right hand.
Things have changed.
The son carries the family name now. It's no longer a burden.
And that's fine with the father.
"I'd seen it coming, and that's how it ought to be."
Reach Michael Bruntz at 473-7254 or
Miller and State Sen. Rusty Crowe congratulate Deacon
Bowers, center, after his Korean War medals were presented
to him. (Ron Campbell / Johnson City Press)
JOHNSON CITY PRESS,
MAY 3, 2005
For Korean War veteran Deacon Bowers, his service awards have been a
... Long Time Coming
ELIZABETHTON — For 30 years, Arthur Byron
“Deacon” Bowers helped thousands of military veterans in East
Tennessee through his position as regional veterans employment
representative. Finally, after his retirement, some of his friends
helped him receive the awards he had earned 50 years ago on the
front lines in Korea.
Although Bowers had devoted his life to
veterans’ causes, including serving as chairman of the
Elizabethton-Carter County Veterans War Memorial Committee, he had
no medals or documents to verify his own military service.
His personnel records were destroyed, along
with the records of hundreds of thousands of other veterans, in a
major fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis in
Although he tried many times to obtain proof
of his military service, his efforts were always frustrated by a
form letter from an official military office informing him that none
of his personnel records survived the fire.
With no personnel records in existence, some
of his friends started piecing together his service by going to the
unit records of the 25th Infantry Division he served with in Korea.
Finally, some documents were located of his
old company which contained Bowers’ name and serial number. A
morning report was dated Feb. 18, 1953, from Chipo-ri, Korea. These
documents proved Bowers was entitled to several awards, including
the Combat Infantryman’s badge, the Korean Service Medal with bronze
star, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service
Medal and the expert marksman badge with rifle bar.
Bowers received his awards in a ceremony
Monday morning in Elizabethton. Retired Lt. Col. Brad Moffitt
presented the awards. Also attending the event were Sen. Rusty Crowe
and Rep. Jerome Cochran, who presented a Senate Joint Resolution
recognizing Bowers on his retirement from serving the veterans of
While Bowers is officially retired from his
job with the state, he made it clear he will continue working for
“I accept these medals on behalf of all Carter
County veterans, and especially those 256 who were killed in combat
since World War I,” Bowers said.
Instead of talking about his military service,
he talked about the Carter County Veterans War Memorial he helped
make possible by leading the effort to raise $265,000 in donations.
He told the audience that the second phase of
the project, a Walk of Honor to commemorate the military service of
all Carter Countians, is nearing the construction phase.
Bowers first wore an Army uniform when he was
only 12 and a half years old. He was big for his age and his
neighbor Jack Carrouth got the boy in F Company, 278th Regimental
Combat Team, one of the two Elizabethton companies in the Tennessee
National Guard, by some illegal means.
His age was not a concern in the unit until
the Korean War unexpectedly broke out. Bowers was dropped from the
rolls because of his age.
Bowers was still determined to serve his
country in wartime. Six months later, at the age of 14, he enlisted
in the Marine Corps and was nearing completion of basic training at
Parris Island, S.C., when his mother informed the base that her son
was too young.
Finally, a year later, he convinced his mother
that he had matured enough to serve. With her blessing, he joined
the Army and went through basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C. He
went straight from basic training to the combat zone, with only a
few days layover to say goodbye to his family.
“I spent my 16th birthday on the front lines,”
he said. Because it had taken him so long to get there, his service
in Korea was short. The armistice was signed and he was out of Korea
just four months after he arrived.
“I got there at the tail end of it, but it was
rough,” Bowers said.