Forty years after winning Olympic gold, Sugar Ray Seales was finally ready Saturday to receive one honor that never made its way into his trophy case: a certificate from Stadium High School.
Not that the medal spends its time under glass. Instead its in the hands and around the necks of the people Seales meets everywhere he goes.
On Saturday, in the brick-paved courtyard of Stadium High, it was briefly a necklace for Lauren Lohrey, whose father was checking out his old high school during a trip from Vancouver, only to run into an Olympian.
Seales landed that honor in 1972. While other students were putting on caps and gowns, Seales wore gloves. He was busy fighting his way to the Munich Olympics. He was also on his way to a professional boxing career that left him legally blind.
Foolishly, the boxer said in an interview Saturday, he and the crowd he hung out with growing up in the Hilltop didnt have much use for education though that didnt mean he didnt have other reasons to like school.
His exploits while piling up a 338-12 amateur record made him a celebrity there.
Every time Id go out of town, Id come back a winner, he said. People loved me.
And the girls, he paused for effect. Man, Im telling you. Listen, everybody loves a winner. And the more you win, the more love you get.
Seales stayed in school until his senior year. But his real education took place at the Tacoma Boys Club, where he trained under coach Joe Clough. The Boys Club also produced two-time Olympian Davey Armstrong and 1976 gold medalist Leo Randolph.
That was a tremendous era in Tacoma boxing, said Marc Blau, chairman of the Shanaman Sports Museum.
Seales father boxed. His three brothers fought, too. And Seales started fighting right after his family arrived in Tacoma from the Virgin Islands when he was 12.
By 15 he was hitting the road, traveling from bout to bout in a Volkswagen van. At one stop, Clough led the boys through a Ku Klux Klan rally to enter a gym.
Tom Mustin, who took over from Clough and is still head coach of the Tacoma Boxing Club, recalls a tall, skinny kid with long, powerful arms.
A left-hander, He mostly had the reach on everybody he boxed, said Mustin, who coached the 2000 U.S. Olympic team.
And if Seales victory in Munich as a junior-welterweight was overshadowed by the tragic killing of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches, he was still given a heros welcome in Tacoma. He was the only U.S. boxer to return with gold.
A champion is OK, Seales said, but an Olympic champion is something else.
He went on to attend Pierce College, then Fort Steilacoom Community College, but never received his Stadium High diploma. Paige Garner, daughter of Seales late manager Ed Garner, made inquiries with Tacoma Public Schools that led to the certificate of recognition.
She found Superintendent Carla Santorno and new Stadium principal Kevin Ikeda receptive to honoring him for a lifetime of relentless unwavering work, Garner said.
He has devoted himself to keeping inner-city youth off the street, both in Tacoma and in Indianapolis, where he moved in 2006 and where he coaches boxing for a living.
Hes really been instrumental in the life theyve chosen on the straight and narrow, Garner said.
CORRECTION: A story in Sundays News Tribune about Olympic gold medalist and former Stadium High School student Sugar Ray Seales contained incorrect information. The document he was awarded by Tacoma Public Schools was a certificate of recognition, not a diploma, school officials said Sunday. District spokesman Dan Voelpel said that state law allows the school district to award diplomas to soldiers who left school to fight in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, but not for other reasons.