By Mike Rainone and Gerry Dahms
At the end of World War 2 our soldiers returned home to Ponoka and districts to seek out their future livelihoods as well as to get involved in the sports and social activities of this vibrant and friendly community. As the little town started to grow and progress rapidly, many jobs became available in both the urban and rural areas, while the popular sporting events were baseball and hockey. At that time the rugged sport of boxing was looked upon as a test of physical fitness and prowess, at first used as a way to display strength, bravery, and courage, as well as a gentleman’s way to settle disputes in a spirited and fair fight.
Many of the returning soldiers had enjoyed some boxing training while in the forces, so a keen interest was shown in forming a club in Ponoka. The first active promoters of the avid pugilistic sport in town were the 17th Field Dressing Station and the Ponoka Air Cadet Squadron in 1947, with Frank Roosa and Frank Coulson handling the promoting, and Sonny (Harry) Frizzell taking on the coaching and training from 1946 to 1948. There would be an immediate interest of 13-20 year old boys who turned out for the boxing action, with the initial ring being set up on the stage of the Capital Theatre and later in the Elks’ Hall on Chipman Avenue. Resident chiropractor John Third came on board as Ponoka Boxing Club Coach from 1951-52, during which time many local sponsors were welcomed to help with the expenses and promotions, as well as volunteers to assist with the training and exciting matches before big crowds of avid fans. A large 1950’s poster would announce a gala 38 round amateur boxing card and entertainment at the Elks’ Hall on Chipman Avenue Ponoka. The Main event would be a 10 round spat between Pte. Schamhorn and Pte. Hayes from the Calgary Army base, with the semi-final being a classy six round match featuring lightweights Bud McElroy of Red Deer and Sonny Frizzell of Ponoka. Also included would be a two round battle royal with six boys, as well as lots of our local boxers facing each other in the big ring. Reserved seats were selling for $1.25 at ringside and 75 cents to $1.00 for the rest.
The rules of the early Ponoka Boxing Club were very strict, stressing that all members maintain a regular conditioning program of land training, weights, as well as looking after themselves with a healthy diet and lifestyle. No person would be allowed to remain as a member of the local team if he or she used their skills to bully, or were guilty of unnecessary street fighting. As well as the local matches, many of the young boxers were given the opportunity to fight in other area towns, as well as taking part in Provincial competitions. As the sport progressed and gained exposure over the years, boxing would become a unique combination of skill, ability, and commitment, and not just a show of brute force. Club activities continued well into the 1960’s, with boxing training and matches hosted at the old Ponoka Arena (I.G.A.) and at the first Curling Rink, which was across from the present Town Offices. Following are some of the high-lites, pugilists, and great characters who worked hard to make our local boxing program very successful, while producing many young athletes and receiving countless awards over the years.
• The Frizzell Brothers….Gordon, Sonny (Harry), Webb, and Lyle were rambunctious farm boys who grew up west of Ponoka. Both Gordon and Sonny were WW2 Regimental and Provincial boxers, then Sonny coached the first Ponoka Club from 1946-1949. Webb Frizzell began his illustrious boxing career in the army, then later captured the Canadian Light Weight Championship, and for his amazing record of 114 wins out of 117 bouts was inducted into both the Canadian and Alberta Boxing Hall of Fame as a featherweight and a lightweight. Lyle and Webb also helped out with the new Ponoka club, and when he wasn’t in the ring Webb was a bouncer at the Leland Hotel.
• Gerry Dahms…moved into this area in 1943, took up boxing with the Air Cadets, and then joined the new Ponoka Club. After graduation from P.C.H.S. in 1944 Gerry went on to the U of A but continued to box, and managed to win a Collegiate Title, Provincial Championships in both Bantam and featherweight classes, as well as a spot in the pre-Olympic Diamond Belt competitions in Vancouver in 1948. Gerry would teach for 37 years in Ponoka and district schools, and still loves all sports.
• Harold Gordanier...was a rugged 147 pound Ponoka lad who won a Central Alberta High School Boxing Championship; Frank (Fiz) Leadley…was a Ponoka Comp grad who went on to box at the U.O.A. and won the Northern Alberta Provincials; and hard-nosed characters like Sam Lee, Tom Bell, Bob Crandall, The Richmond boys, and on and on.
• Frank Palechek… was a self-taught farm lad who boxed in the Calgary area in the mid-1930’s, then settled in the Ponoka area and served for many years as a County Councillor.
• Jerry Fraser…was an outstanding welterweight boxer in the early 1950’s, but health problems unfortunately ended his colorful professional Metis career.
• John Kocyba…gained his boxing experience during WW2 while serving with the Polish army. After moving to Alberta he appeared on many fight cards in Central Alberta, but his new bride finally put a halt to his future in the ring.
• A host of young Ponoka boys who really got the boxing fever going in and around Ponoka during the ‘dirty 30’s’ were Dick Byers, Harvey Seagrave, Ron Blasner, Ray Thomas, Ian Adam, Preston Twa, Jerry Webber, Chester Seifert, the wild swinging Adams brothers, and many others.
There would be many other young boxers, volunteers, and sponsors who promoted and carried the torch for the great and gritty Ponoka Boxing tradition from the early 1930’s and into the sixties, and hopefully their efforts and their successes will never be forgotten. At the present day there are still close to 50 active Boxing Clubs in Alberta, and information can be acquired at www.boxingalberta.com/clubs.