Fifty two years after graduation from RUHS in 1959, our class still draws over one hundred alumni and associates to an annual dinner in Martinez and averages two dozen attendees every month to luncheons scheduled throughout the Greater Bay Area. These are moved regularly to accomodate Oilers in surrounding areas, but most of us no longer live locally and many are no longer alive, so this turnout is exceptional in scope.
It reflects a rare closeness forged on schoolyards and campuses throughout the Richmond Unified School District, between children of war-effort workers in a shipyard boomtown. We are the "Shipyard Siblings," sons and daughters of America's greatest generation, the builders and winners of WWII. These examples of our diversity depict the wide range of professional and personal pursuits, as well as the success stories, comebacks and contributions made by so many of the classmates carrying on the next generation of that American tradition.
They are designed to familiarize us all to a greater extent and encourage interest in each other, to pique curiosity and promote social exchange. If he wasn't that close to you in school, you'll surely want to meet this subject, now that you know him this much better.....
Always affable, Ralph McCoy has a ready smile and warm words for everybody. He's always good company. Share his table at one of these reunion events and you'll enjoy the happiness he spreads, which is somewhat surprising.....considering the pain and punishment he used to purvey as a prizefighter.
No opponent ever enjoyed Ralph's presence in a boxing ring, over the course of a career that covered well over a hundred amateur bouts and 32 main events as a pro. Ralph only lost five of those 100-plus amateur contests and his pro record was 28-4. He was clearly bad company in the ring, while becoming the sixth-ranked middleweight contender in the world during the middle and late 1960s.
Yet none of it shows on him today. Asked at our collective 70th birthday party, last summer in Martinez, if he suffered the aches and pains that fighting for a living usually brings later in life, Ralph smiled wide in recounting no ill effects. No visionary problems, clear thought process, good dental record, no persistent headaches........not even his hands hurt.
Ralph emphatically thanks God for his good fortune, while agreeing that the spartan lifestyle contributed greatly to his physical health. "I was always strict in my training," he said. " I watched what I ate, slept right and did all that roadwork, because the worst thing you can do in the ring is get tired. When you get tired, that's when you get beat up, and I never wanted that."
He called it "embarrassing" to get "beat up," but that's something he rarely suffered, getting stopped only once in his career. His appearance denies the possiblility of many beatings, and his demeanor belies the realities of the many beatings he dealt out. A physical force with the gloves, Ralph knocked out his first eight opponents upon turning pro, and several thereafter.
Independent sportswriter Gordon Raddue nicknamed him the "Richmond Rifle" for the shots he delivered in the ring. He became known as "The Rifleman" after that, in deference to the TV show of the same name, starring Chuck Connors. Although he packed a powerful punch, Ralph was not just a slugger. It was his boxing ability that kept him out of harm's way most of the time.
He still puts that ability to good use today, using his ring experience to school and train youths and adults, amateurs and pros, in the "manly art of self defense" as it's often been characterized. Ralph remains an expert in the Marquis of Queensbury rules.....and his good health and appearance attest to his understanding of survival in those fistic endeavors.
Ralph's journey started in New Orleans, where he was born 70 years ago.....which partially explains his good manners, coming from that bed of sociability and hospitality. He moved to Richmond with his family at six years of age, where he attended Washington and Stege elementary schools and Harry Ells Junior High....before becoming our classmate at RUHS.
He joined the Air Force upon graduation and served from 1960 through '64. That's where his boxing career began and it took him all around the world while representing his branch of the service. Ralph thinks he must have visited every state in the union as his squadron's entry in intraservice and interservice competition. He represented the entire Air Force when he won the 166-pound SISM championship, the equivalent of a military olympics. He subsequently defeated Germany's amateur middleweight champion, to add that title to his resume.
Ralph turned pro as a middleweight under manager Warren Cabral in 1965 and began his opening string of eight straight knockouts in the Richmond Auditorium. Due to his extensive, and successful, amateur career, Ralph debuted as a main eventer in 10-round bouts. He never fought a four or six-round semi-main event, just went right to the top, as the featured attraction.
His ninth pro bout was with San Francisco's Jimmy Lester, who already had 35 fights on his record at the time. That was the only time Ralph was ever stopped in a fight, in the eighth round. Ironically, Ralph had knocked Lester out when they met as amateurs, but Jimmy's extensive pro experience made the difference in the rematch. They were to meet twice again, since they were the top two contenders in the Bay Area for a shot at the title.
Lester won a decision in their second pro encounter, but took the microphone after the fight and expressed his sincere belief that Ralph had actually deserved the decision. Ralph won the decision the next time they met, saying he "learned a lot" about that particular opponent and put it to good use.
Ralph also defeated Richard Steele, the famous referee, while he was still a fighter, in a bout in the Olympic Auditorium of Los Angleles.
McCoy hurt his own chances at a title fight by knocking out the champion Emile Griffith's stablemate, Charlie Austin. That showed the Griffith camp that Ralph was too great a risk.....one they could more easily duck because the "money wasn't right." Which means Ralph wasn't a great enough gate attraction to force their hand. Richmond promoted weekly matches but the auditorium was small and the media exposure was limited.
Lester's base of San Francisco was greater in size and popularity, creating more acclaim and stardom than was available in the East Bay. As a consequence, Ralph had no financial leverage to attract a champion who would only risk his title if the price was tempting enough. But he was, and is, our champion......always will be.
After concluding his ring career, Ralph managed Olympic fighter Bomani Parker and trained a North Richmond prospect named Aaron Morgan, who was talented but too troubled to sustain a boxing career. He also handled Art Serwano, an African fighter out of Ghana.
Ralph led the Police Athletic League youth boxing program in Richmond, at the Martin Luther King Center on Harbour Way for a few years, where one of his pupils raved about his coaching..."He was always positive and encouraging, very supportive of all of us. He had everybody down there believing they could turn pro if they made the committment," offered my son, Eric, in the late 1980s.
Today, Ralph tutors adults and children four hours a day at the Booker T. Anderson Community Center in Richmond. "That's primarily for the conditioning," he adds. And, judging by Ralph's condition, I reccomend his tutelage. That's not saying you'll look as young as he does, or feel quite as fit as he does.....but I suspect you'll shape up some, no doubt.
If you dont' want to give that level of conditioning a try, sample some of his company at the next reunion event.....it's just as rewarding.