The figurehead of Brantford’s boxing community for the past 30 years is leaving the city for the allure of an East Coast lifestyle.
But as Bill Williams heads home to his native Prince Edward Island, he is confident the Brantford Black Eye Boxing Club in good hands.
Williams organized one final Black Eye Boxing card last Friday at the Branch 90 Legion. Following the event, he had difficulty expressing his emotions.
“It’s hard to find the right words,” Williams said. “I feel elated and relieved, but very disappointed that I won’t be doing this here anymore.”
Williams expects to be in P.E.I. by the second week of April. He has headed up the Black Eye Boxing Club for the past 11 years, but started coaching boxing in Brantford out of the Boys and Girls Club in 1979.
Through the years, he has had a positive impact on hundreds of young lives, both inside and outside of the boxing ring.
“He was more than a coach, he was a father to most of the fighters,” said Wyatt Stairs, who trained under Williams for 12 years. “If you were part of the club, he was there for you growing up. He is one of the most amazing men I have known through my life.”
Black Eye ring announcer John Bradford said Williams was the heart and soul of the boxing club, helping with the development of countless young men and women “with not only their boxing skills, but their self esteem.”
The 61-year-old Williams is originally from Charlottetown and his 92-year-old mother and his sister will be there when he returns.
“I have a yearning for the island,” Williams said. “I really like the lifestyle.”
Williams said a city council decision also played a small role in his decision to retire.
The Black Eye club trains out of a dilapidated industrial building on Webling Street in Eagle Place. Though the gym looks professional inside, the exterior of the building is fading fast.
Williams had preliminary talks with the city about taking over and repairing the Guscott building, an abandoned grocery store at the corner of Erie Avenue and Veterans Memorial Parkway.
The previous city council commissioned a staff report about the idea in 2010, but the current city council put the plans into limbo in February 2011. Williams couldn’t apply for an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant until he secured a lease from the city. The city wouldn’t grant him a lease until he secured funding.
“The Guscott building really took the wind out of my sails,” he said. “That would have been great for the club.”
Williams will leave the club in the hands of four coaches – Rob Rutherford, Duncan Amos, Jack Blasdell and Jack Armour – who will divide the work Williams was responsible for.
“The other coaches and I will do our best to carry on,” Rutherford said. “But whether we can do it to the same extent Bill did is a tall order. He did a tremendous amount of work and made this a full-time job. He is impossible to replace.”
The Black Eye Boxing Club usually runs a handful of fight nights through the year, in addition to two signature tournaments. The Summerhays Boxing Tournament was held for the 11th time last fall and the 10th Friday Night Under the Lights took place last summer.
Rutherford said they hope to see Williams at future major events.
“If I know Bill, he’ll make some trips back,” he said.
Williams is leaving the club with five professional boxers currently on the Canadian circuit – the most it’s ever had.
Chris Aucoin, Dave Aucoin, Darren Fletcher, Johnny Mercante and Frank White have carried the Brantford Black Eye banner to major professional events. White, Chris Aucoin and Fletcher will appear on a card this Saturday in Moncton, New Brunswick.
Williams has many highlights from his time spent teaching the sport of boxing in Brantford, but if asked to pick one he is quick to note the 2005 National Canadian Junior Championships that he brought to the city.
Williams fighters went 4-2 on the night during Friday’s card at the Branch 90 Legion.
“These kids did great,” Williams said. “They are the future of Brantford boxing.”
Brantford’s Karl Hess, who weighed in at 139-pounds, took a split decision over Belleville’s Curtis Sangriff to start the night.
Black Eye’s junior fighter, Bailey MacDonald, took a loss after his second standing eight-count in the third round forced the referee to call the fight.
In the women’s 55-kilogram division, Brantford’s Jaime Cogger won a unanimous decision over a boxer from Peterborough after fighting a fierce third round.
Local boxer Reid Coperthwaite got called on a doctor stoppage in the second round, losing against Belleville’s Kam Butler.
Veteran Brantford boxer Paul MacNeil won a unanimous decision over a fighter from Peterborough after three closely matched rounds.
Brantford’s Kiehl Longstreet rounded out the 4-2 local record on the night by staying to the outside and scoring on right jabs against Peterborough’s Chris Parberry.
“This was another great night,” Williams said. “I have a lot of great memories, I’ve met a lot of great people and met a lot of great fighters and coaches. I will miss it, but I am looking forward to starting this new chapter of my life.”