Thursday, July 07, 2016

West Texas Middleweight

The Story of LaVern Roach (Sport in the American West Series)


Frank Sikes
Genre: Biography
Publisher: Texas Tech University Press
Date of Publication: June 30, 2016
Number of Pages: 288
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LaVern Roach, a skinny kid from the small town of Plainview, Texas, rose from obscurity to become one of boxing’s most popular figures during the 1940s. Roach’s rise to prominence occurred during an era when boxing shared the spotlight with baseball as the nation’s top two professional sports. As a result of Roach’s death—which marked the first nationally televised fight during which a boxer died from injuries received in the ring—the sport of boxing came under closer scrutiny by the general public than ever before.
West Texas Middleweight is the story of Roach’s all too brief journey from a West Texas amateur, to enlistment in the US Marines, where he captained the nation’s most successful military boxing team, to becoming a Madison Square Garden main eventer. He received the distinction of being named The Ring Magazine’s “Rookie of the Year” for 1947 and was considered a top ten contender for the middleweight championship of the world. This book chronicles Roach’s road to his final fight—and it explains why, as noted by legendary boxing trainer Angelo Dundee, “boxing changed because of LaVern Roach.”

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Middleweight boxer LaVern Roach was a very successful professional boxer from the end of World War II to early 1950 but today his name is a relatively unknown one even among boxing fans.  But despite being unfamiliar with the name LaVern Roach, I was very familiar with several of the boxers who were his biggest rivals at the time for the middleweight world championship, names like Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Jake LaMotta.  And now, thanks to West Texas Middleweight: The Story of LaVern Roach, the new LaVern Roach biography from Frank Sikes, I can add Roach to my limited understanding of that boxing era. 

LaVern Roach was born in 1925 in a small farming community just north of Plainview, Texas, in a part of the state known as the Texas Panhandle.  He discovered the sport of boxing as a ten-year-old when their father gave LaVern and his younger brother boxing gloves as Christmas presents.  LaVern immediately took the sport seriously, and when he wasn’t fighting his brother, he was trying to organize matches with neighborhood kids.  By the time he reached high school, LaVern had devised a training routine of his own that rivaled those of professional boxers of his day, and he seemed destined to join those fighters in the profession after high school.

But something called World War II intervened, and five days before his eighteenth birthday (and his high school graduation ceremony), LaVern joined the United States Marines.  The Marines recognized his exceptional boxing skills and LaVern was made part of the Marine boxing team that fought other teams as part of the effort to sell war bonds and boost overall morale.  During this period, LaVern also met the man who would be instrumental in guiding his professional boxing career at the end of the war: Sergeant John Abood, manager of the Marine boxing team.

LaVern Roach began his professional career after World War II ended, but before his discharge from the Marines, and he was immediately successful, winning four of his first five fights by knockout before losing for the first time to an immensely more experienced boxer who disguised his true identity in order to get the match.  As an amateur, he had a record of 100 wins and 5 losses (with four of the losses coming before he turned eighteen), so his fast start as a professional was not a surprise to those in the sport.  His unusual good looks and his success made him one of the more popular boxers of his day, and LaVern Roach seemed destined for great things.

Author Frank Sikes does not limit “the story of LaVern Roach” to his exploits in the boxing ring, however.  The reader learns of aspects of LaVern’s personal life (his childhood, his parents, his school days, and the love of his life, Evelyn Roach and their children) that give a clear picture of how fine a man LaVern Roach was.  To this day Plainview High School chooses one of its senior boys for the LaVern Roach Award, the highest honor that a Plainview High School senior boy can attain because it is given to the boy who best embodies the LaVern Roach lifestyle of “clean living, good citizenship, and sportsmanship.” 

West Texas Middleweight does LaVern Roach proud.

Frank Sikes, a third-generation West Texan, grew up in Plainview, where LaVern Roach, along with Jimmy Dean, were hometown heroes.  Sikes graduated from Texas Tech in 1967, then was a US Navy Officer proudly serving aboard the USS Little Rock stationed in Gaeta, Italy from 1968-1970.  He attended the University of Houston School of Business, from 1973 to 1975, and got his master's degree in religion from Wayland Baptist University in 2011. Frank and his wife Nancy have been married for 50 years and have two grown children out of the house, and two Boston Terriers, Molly and Maggie (or as some suggest Boston terrorists) who rule the house. Lubbock has been home for the past 30 years with stops in Newport, RI; San Francisco, CA; Gaeta, Italy; Houston, TX; and Albuquerque, NM.  West Texas Middleweight is his first book. Connect with the author on FACEBOOK.

 Each Wins a Signed Copy of the Book 
Each Wins a Signed Copy of the Book PLUS a $25 Barnes & Noble Gift Card

   June 1 - June 10, 2016

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7/2       My Book Fix Blog – Author Interview #1

7/3       Forgotten Winds – Guest Post #1
7/4       Margie's Must Reads Review
7/6       StoreyBook Reviews  – Author Interview #2
7/7       Book Chase Review
7/8       The Page Unbound Author Interview #3
7/9       Missus Gonzo  – Guest Post #2
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