You might call it the gloves-on approach to helping handicapped children.
The second annual David Hill Fight for the Handicapped took place Sunday at the Irvine Marriott Hotel, attracting two dozen amateur boxers and nearly 500 spectators including boxing greats from five decades. Winners of the 13-match event, staged by the Southern California Police Athletic League, were the orthopedically handicapped and other health-impaired students of the Carl Harvey School in Santa Ana.
The $10,000 raised will be used to buy the students the latest in therapeutic equipment.
Match chairman Ron Mercurio, who teaches adaptive physical education at the school, readily saw the irony of the situation.
"Here we are raising money to benefit brain-injured children, and how are we doing it? We're putting guys in the ring knocking each other's brains out . . . ," Mercurio said.
"Seriously, they're not knocking each other's brains out. If a kid even looks like he's hurt, they stop the fight immediately. The objective here is not to render the guy unconscious. It's athletics, like baseball."
Jim Livingston, who runs a gym in Fullerton, elaborated.
"We're fighting for something a lot of people don't give two hoots and a holler about--kids who can't fight for themselves," Livingston said. "Boxing is not on everybody's hit parade. In a way, you might even say boxing's handicapped these days. It's got a bad reputation. It's brutal, right?
"In a professional ring, it's brutal. Professional boxers get paid to do bodily harm. Look, if somebody paid me a million dollars to hurt you, I probably would. Here, we don't get hurt. Our safety precautions are strictly enforced. Our injury rate is nothing compared to even high school football."
Boxing legends talked shop as the young amateurs tested each other's mettle.
In the front row were former heavyweight contender Jerry Quarry, lightweights George Latka from the 1940s and Cisco Andrade from the '50s, 1984 Olympic gold medalist Henry Tillman, former featherweight champion Danny (Little Red) Lopez and ex-bantamweight champion Alberto Davila. Former lightweight champion Mando Ramos was there pushing BAAD (Boxers Against Alcohol and Drugs). Olympic boxing announcer Danny Valdivia presided.
Rams tight end David Hill, who has loaned his name to the cause, was there, of course, as were several others who would rather go 100 yards than 15 rounds: Eric Dickerson, Leroy Irvin, Norwood Van and Doug Reed.
Dennis Rosenberg of Long Beach, who began boxing 10 years ago, was scheduled for a bout with Ray McElroy, also of Long Beach. Although Rosenberg contracted cancer of the spine when he was 18 months old and was walking with a cane, he seemed confident.
"It's only an exhibition match," Rosenberg explained. "Still, one thing I know about boxing is you never know what's going to happen till the bell rings." As it turned out, his opponent didn't show.
The Carl Harvey School serves 160 students ranging in age from 18 months to 21 years. They remain there only until they can be put into regular schools.
Among the equipment that the staff hopes to purchase with the event's proceeds are several "Dean Machines." Recently developed by bicycle mechanic Dean Baker of Bakersfield, the machine consists of a platform, straps and wheels and is designed for children who cannot stand unsupported.
Mercurio explained: "It gets them in an upright position like the rest of us. They're up, their arms hang free and they're mobile. All the organs and everything are in alignment. It's better for their breathing; it's better for their heart. It's better for everything. It gives them a normal perspective on the world."
Getting a "normal" perspective on the world the day of the matches were at least two Harvey School students, Ciara Campbell, 6, of Orange and, in a modified version of the Dean Machine developed by her father, Briana Kealiher, 3. Briana has a lung disease and a bone-growth disorder. Ciara has cerebral palsy.
The Dean Machine also aids in the development of muscle tone and bone formation.
"Ciara's pretty active in a wheelchair," noted Jude Campbell, her mother. "You should see our doorways. But this is an answer to her prayers.
"When I was getting her dressed this week, she just stood up after I'd put her shirt on--I was kind of taken aback. Both feet were flat on the ground, and she kind of erected her body, whereas before . . . . "
But it's not just that the Dean Machine allows her daughter to stand, Campbell explained.
"What it's done is to make her understand she can stand and do other things," Campbell explained . "The other day, for instance, she pulled her chair up next to the sink, stood up, washed glasses, drank drinks, filled water pitchers . . . I had water all over my kitchen. But believe me, I was happy."
As it turned out, it was an earthquake and not 2,000 runners warming up for the Bastille Day 10K Run that shook the county Sunday morning.