Reti takes boxing disappointment in stride

Harvey Reti has the gentle heart of a fighter who has thrown all the punches he can at life. Fate and circumstance have sure thrown a few jabs at…

Harvey Reti has the gentle heart of a fighter who has thrown all the punches he can at life.

Fate and circumstance have sure thrown a few jabs at him of late, though.

Reti won a bronze medal in boxing at the 1962 British and Commonwealth Games in Perth, Australia.

Two years later, he boxed at the Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, in the light welterweight division.

Talking about those days makes the eyes of the 69-year-old former Princess Patricia Light Infantry soldier mist.

Just for a second, that is.

Forty-three years later, the Canada Winter Games has brought a boxing ring and a big tournament to Reti’s hometown.

But though the head of the Whitehorse boxing club has fought to keep it running for dozens of years — training several formidable Yukon boxers in a rundown building in Takhini in the process — there isn’t a Yukon fighter in the ring at the Games.

Reti has trained two of his 17 grandchildren, 14-year-old Jordon and 15-year-old Daniel, into what he calls “terrific little boxers.”

And 18-year-old Kevin Mendelson from Dawson City is also a “good little fighter.”

But because of age limitations, Reti’s been denied the reward of walking his own fighter to the ring during the Whitehorse Games.

Mendelson is too old for the Games by one month, he said.

And his grandsons are too young, and have taken to playing badminton and break dancing.

Tough and fair to the end, he hasn’t let the obvious frustration get the better of him.

 “It’s a bit disappointing,” he said.

What about his grandsons — wouldn’t he be very proud to have them in the ring?

“It’s something you can’t force a person to do,” Reti said of boxing and his grandson Daniel, who has taken up an interest in badminton.

“I understand — he’s a young guy, and they try this and this and this, then get into what they want,” he said. “But I’d like to see him get back into boxing because he’s a terrific little boxer. He’s just a bit too young for it (the Games) anyway.”

The goal is to have a Yukon boxer in the next Canada Games, he said.

Don’t think for a minute Reti wouldn’t be overjoyed to have a boxer he trained in the ring.

Talking about the tournament he’s been overseeing this week at the gloving table at FH Collins Secondary School, Reti’s eyes sparkle.

“This is fantastic, especially to be up here, to talk to the boxers and the coaches, to encourage them,” he said. “We’ve got a terrific view here.”

Jess Staffen, a 27-year-old former boxer who trained under Reti and boxed in the 64-kilogram class at the 1994 Canada Games, is now a ringside official.

He’s a touch more open about what the lack of boxers must be like for Reti, whom he clearly respects.

“It’s a little disappointing, but it just didn’t happen this time,” said Jess.

His father, Ted Staffen, became a coach and an official through Jess’ love of the sport.

Ted doesn’t think Reti has been hurt.

“It’s a disappointment, sure, but sports ebbs and flows,” said Ted. “The timing couldn’t have been worse, but that’s the nature of sports. I honestly don’t think it bothered him.”

Reti commands reverence from the people he’s taught to punch and parry over the years.

In his day he was something of a Canadian legend in the ring.

The self-declared “farm boy” from Taber, Alberta, is now in the province’s hall of fame.

And on March 3, a sign honouring Reti’s trip to the Olympics in 1964 went up along a ski trail at Mt. McIntyre in Whitehorse.

Reti has traded respect in the ring for respect from young people.

Seeing him around kids is a revelation: they gravitate toward him as to a respected grandfather.

Jess and Ted both think he’s done great things for a whole bunch of kids who have been going through difficult times.

“Because he was an Olympian, he carries with him an aura already, but he’s just so calm and direct with the kids,” said Ted.

“He builds a trust with them that’s almost immediate. It’s just amazing to watch.”

 “Just as a boxer, he can still put me to shame just working out,” adds Jess, clearly in very good shape himself.

“He doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t swear — he’s just an excellent role model.

“Boxing is a good sport for kids with a variety of issues … they learn self-control,” he said. “Having an example like Harvey is better than anyone could ask for.”

The small boxing club that Reti oversees currently has about 10 kids.

What’s the secret behind Reti’s rapport with children?

Honesty, he said.

“I teach them this: when they’re boxing, to throw straight punches. And in life, the same thing — you throw straight, honest things with people and be honest,” said Reti.

“That’s the way I tell them they should live their life.

“I show interest in them. I let them know that if this old farm boy from Taber can do it, I’ve got two arms, two legs, a heart and a head, they can do the very same thing, just put their mind to it and their heart to it.”

Boxing can help tougher kids from the wrong side of life find a way out of their troubles, he said.

“They relate more to that. Sometimes, if you can get them into boxing, you get it out of their system. They can basically keep it in the ring and they finally rise above trouble.”