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LADY OF THE RINGS

Marge Hammond stands in the ring at the Emmett Scott Center in Rock Hill on Thursday. She is holding her grandfather's boxing gloves from 1900. Hammond, 71, became the first woman selected to the Carolinas Boxing Hall of Fame.
Marge Hammond stands in the ring at the Emmett Scott Center in Rock Hill on Thursday. She is holding her grandfather's boxing gloves from 1900. Hammond, 71, became the first woman selected to the Carolinas Boxing Hall of Fame.

Most women at age 71 have not spent decades of life in sweaty boxing gyms.

Most women haven't helped boxers who come from cracked streets in places such as Syracuse, N.Y., and Rock Hill, or worked countless bouts as timekeeper, judge, even referee.

Most women do not get calls of thanks from boxers of other races and backgrounds on Mother's Day and Christmas. Most women for a 70th birthday do not go skydiving. Or say, at 6,000 feet above the earth, to her grown son who got her the skydive as a present: "If you don't go to the doctor for that cough, you are in trouble!"

Most women are not Rock Hill's Marge Hammond.

Hammond is the first woman to be selected to the Carolinas Boxing Hall of Fame. Marge was elected on the first ballot for this year's class. Unanimously.

"Marge never did fight, far as I know," said Carl Holt, one of the board members of the hall of fame. "But if she did, I wouldn't want to be on the other end of a punch."

Marge Hammond loves to talk about "my kids." Sure, her three sons and her daughter, but the kids she also talks about are the hundreds who have trained with her and husband, Charlie.

"The young ones, some didn't have anything when they walked in the door. So what?" she said. "I welcomed all of them."

One time, a guy grabbed one of her boxers by the throat. Hammond screamed at the guy and told him, "Nobody touches my kids!"

The guy fled.

Marge Hammond is the sweetest little older lady you would never want to cross. She has been ringside with Evander Holyfield. She has had the blood and spit and sweat of boxers fall on her at ringside at amateur and pro bouts for more than 30 years and never blinked an eye.

Her grandfather was a boxer, but she became involved for a lifetime with the sport when she married Charlie 50 years ago. He boxed in the Marines and has trained fighters since. The Hammonds came to Rock Hill in 1980, loved it and never left.

When a skinny kid from Lancaster about 20 years ago wanted to get serious about boxing, be a champion, Marge Hammond didn't just help with training. She opened the door of her home, with the three sons in it already, and told Cedric Mingo to move in so he could be around for full-time training.

Cedric Mingo did win a title, featherweight, on Jan. 19, 1990. Marge was in the corner. When Mingo was elected to that same boxing hall of fame, he told me, "Marge Hammond treated me just like her own son."

Over the years, Hammond has always tried to get a little exposure for the fighters. She and her husband promoted the boxing matches for Rock Hill's annual Come-See-Me festival for 18 years.

As many as four nights a week for the past two decades, she's been a fixture at the Rock Hill Boxing Club at Rock Hill's Emmett Scott community center. Alongside Charlie, who went into the same boxing hall of fame two years ago, Marge lords over the place with her gray hair and her straight talk.

Not ready to retire

On top of all that, the Hammonds have amateur boxing duties -- all of it volunteer -- almost every weekend. From New York to the Florida Keys, Marge Hammond has done it all in boxing.

"I love it, always have, and I'm not ready to give it up, either," she said.

In the next month, she'll work a regional tournament in Georgia, pro boxing in Columbia, then judge Golden Gloves bouts in Charlotte on March 1.

"That's my 72nd birthday, so they better throw me a party," Marge Hammond said.

Don't doubt somebody will hear about it if there isn't some cake that night.

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