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BOXING BOOTY-the late Billy Speary is hailed by many as the greatest fighter to come out of Luzerne County and had the awards to prove it.  He was champion of his division (flyweight and bantamweight) in National A.A.U. competition from 1937-39, then fought five years in the professional ranks.

MAKING THE ROUNDS with the Baron
Sunday Independent, April 7, 1985

Where do we begin the Billy Speary story? Billy Speary, three time National A.A.U. boxing champion (actually he was holder of 15 titles as an amateur).  Billy Speary, professional prizefighter who took on four world's champions (while they held their crowns).  Billy Speary, the greatest fighter ever come out of Luzerne County.

Simply put, Speary, the kid from West Nanticoke, fought the best and defeated the best.  He died much too young, at the age of 49 (on October 24, 1967),so they'll be saluting him posthumously when he's inducted into the Wyoming Valley Boxing Hall Of Fame April 19 at the Wilkes-Barre American Legion.  It's the local Hall's second annual fete and along with Speary, ex-middleweight Neil Miller and the late Jim McCarthy, veteran sportscaster who passed away March 20, will be honored.

But, back to Speary.  We rummaged through old newspapers last week and uncovered some stories about his start in the boxing game.

Seems as though Speary's brother, Wesley, was a fair-to-middlin' boxer himself so was inevitable, perhaps, that young Billy would follow his older brother to training quarters.  Billy was a skinny, 90-pounder, attending Nanticoke High School when he began training under the watchful eye of Art Thomas.  He had been sickly all his life and thought training would build him up.

But, there's a yarn in the Philadelphia Inquirer which tells the best (it was written after he became A.A.U. champ).  It follows: "Three years ago his older brother taunted him about being a "scaredy-cat".
That's the reason Bill Speary, 19-year-old West Nanticoke, Pa., youth holds the 112-pound championship after retaining his crown in the Inquirer AA Diamond Belt boxing finale Thursday night at the arena.
Well, if you are only a 16-year-old skinny kid of weighed about 100 pounds, you too, would have resented an older and heavier brother pounding the tar out of you. 
Every time brother Wesley Speary, also an amateur boxer, tagged Bill the younger boy would duck to a corner or hide his face between his hands.
Bill Speary didn't relish the likes of his brother's punishment and put on the whining act until the older boys said, "Scaredy-cat."

"That was too much for me, so I walked right into his punches and took a good beating. But it was the best thing that happened to me. From then on I made up my mind to become a boxer," said Flyweight Speary as he related his baptismal experiences.
Fortunately for Bill, Arthur Thomas moved to Nanticoke, across the river, about three years ago and thus began an alliance that has clicked both ways. Thomas works in the coal mines and his spare moments are spent developing young amateur boxers. Thomas took Bill Speary in hand and they join the Tamaqua K. of C., haven for amateur aspirants in the coal district.
But Tamaqua is 40 miles from West Nanticoke, so Thomas and Bill Speary make for their town fire house every night, and there in the glowing warmth of the engine room do some boxing."

From these humble beginnings, Billy Speary would go on to earn the title of champion.

In 1937 he entered the Diamond Belt district eliminations in Tamaqua - and the rest is history: three times national A.A.U. champion, not to mention his three international championships in amateur ranks.  He simply ruled the roost in the 112-pound and 118-pound ranks during his reign as champion.

Speary always had his sights set on winning the Olympics, but because of the outbreak of hostilities, leading to World War II, the Olympics were called off in 1940 and that's when he decided to turn pro.

As a pro, he fought the best in the world, including sizzlers with bantamweight and featherweight champ Harry Jeffra, and Joey Archibald, Jackie Callura and Willie Pep, the latter three having held the 126-pound crown.  In three bouts with Jeffra, the featherweight champ, Speary won the first in a 10-round decision at Wilkes-Barre on November 19, 1940 but an overweight clause saved Jeffra's title.

Speary retired from the ring in 1944 but performed in a referee's capacity in many bouts in the Wilkes-Barre-Scranton area.

When he died in 1967, he was living with his family in Bethlehem, where he was employed as a welder for Bethlehem fabricating, Inc.

It's been 41 years since Billy Speary last entered a ring to do battle-but we'll never forget him.  And, they'll be remembering him Friday, April 19, at the Legion.  Billy Speary, the boxing legend.

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Plaque commemorating induction

Hall Of Fame



Dorothy Speary, widow of Billy Speary, accepts plaque from Jack Smith.


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