Among the many great fighters developed in Wyoming
Valley was Bill Speary of Nanticoke, who holds the proud distinction of
whipping two world's champions in the featherweight division and also
compiling a record in the amateur ranks that was never surpassed.
His sensational rise in the boxing game can be attributed to the
skillful handling of Art Thomas who taught Speary the fundamentals of
fighting. In the roarin' twenties, when the original Armory A.C.
was staging some of the best boxing shows in America, the Nanticoke
youngster was smitten with the fight bug and felt that he would
ascend the heights of the world's oldest and most popular sport if given
the opportunity. Art Thomas had Syd Thomas and other boys working
out in a small gym in Nanticoke and one of the interested spectators
with Speary. He was a quiet, timid kid, well supplied with
intestinal fortitude and the confidence that makes great fighters.
One night Billy got up the courage to ask Art Thomas
for a chance to don the mittens and learn how to box. Art was
impressed with the sincerity of the youngster and from that night on,
Billy was boxing regularly with boys of experience who soon discovered
that the shy, easy going Speary was gifted with natural ability.
Speary found the going tough, and on more than one occasion was on the
receiving end of a barrage of leather.
But Art Thomas' protégé was not of the "giving
up type."... He was a lad with heaps of perseverance, one who
firmly believed in the old adage, "If at first you don't succeed,
try, try again." Billy engaged in sparring bouts with more
determination than ever and was soon performing like a ringwise veteran
in amateur bouts. He displayed class from the outset and boxing
fans, amazed at his all-around ability, began to rave about the
youngster. The opposition in the amateur ranks went down like
wheat before the scythe.
Billy Speary was one not to be bullied and could take
care of himself regardless of the reputation of any toughie who tried to
get fresh with him. In fact, he mastered the use of his fists long
before he saw his first boxing glove. After wading through the
best in the amateur ranks, Billy was ushered into the professional ranks
by his wily and capable pilot, Art Thomas, who still talks with a
decided Welsh accent despite the fact that he was in America when the
courthouse was located on Public Square.
In 1940, Speary reach the peak of his boxing
career. He astounded the fistic world by trimming Joey Archibald
at the local Armory AC in a 10-round bout that is still discussed by the
many who witnessed it. It was shortly after Archibald lost his
featherweight title to Harry Jeffra. In the same year Speary,
staging a brilliant performance, defeated champion Jeffra in a
10-rounder here in Wilkes-Barre, scene of his triumph over Archibald.
In 1941 Billy and Jeffra met at Baltimore, in a
12-round "go" when the champion won a much disputed verdict
over the pride of Nanticoke. The pair met for third time at
Toronto, Canada, in 1942, and Jeffra won a close verdict after 10
sizzling rounds that brought Speary many fine press notices in Canadian
newspapers. His many sensational fights with Mike Raffa, Johnny
Greco and other top ranking featherweights offer the best proof of his
greatness. The writer is firm in the believe that had Speary
entered the pro ranks earlier, he would have annexed the world's
championship in his division.
Great credit is due Art Thomas for the rapid progress
made by Billy Speary in both the amateur and professional ranks.
Although Billy possessed unusual qualifications from the start, it was
Art's excellent handling that was responsible for his entering the star
bout class and fighting to even terms two great world champions.
Them were the days, eh, lads?