Guest Commentary: Fairfield boxing great, Reynolds, deserves enshrinement
All are Roger Ludlowe High School alumni who became world-class athletes are enshrined in the school's Hall of Fame.
Visitors to the school will find their images, plaques and memorabilia displayed in the Ludlowe lobby, right there with those of opera singer Franco Ventriglia (Ludlowe '41), U.S. Army Brigadier Gen. David Nydam ('53), football player-turned-actor Gary Klahr ('65), scientist Philip Kuekas ('65) and publisher-editor Nancy Evans ('68).
Astute observers of local history may detect an error of omission. Bernie Reynolds, the 1942-Ludlowe graduate, who became a world-class heavyweight boxer in the late 1940s and early 1950s, isn't among this elite group.
I see this as an injustice. The man belongs.
Yes, I'll concede that Reynolds lost many battles with alcoholism later in life. Even his family and friends will attest to this sad fact. But I don't believe these transgressions should offset his many accomplishments as a high school athlete, in military service during World War II and in the ring.
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The late Bernard Earle Reynolds was a courageous man who excelled at many levels. Some noteworthy examples:
High school: Reynolds captained the 1941 Ludlowe football team. A rugged guy who played both offense and defense -- customary at the time -- and gave no quarter. He was an integral part of a defense that allowed just 13 points all season. Those Tigers won four games, tied three times and lost just once. The 1942 "Fairfieldiana" yearbook also tells us that Reynolds was voted "Best Looking" senior, which, I suppose, bears little weight in this thesis.
Military service: With the country embroiled in World War II, Reynolds enlisted in the U.S. Army in March of 1943 and served three years. As a member of Gen. George Patton's Third Army, he won three battle stars for his service in the Battle of the Bulge, the defining engagement that assured Nazi Germany's defeat. In 1950, shortly after the outbreak of war in Korea, "something made me want to go back in" and he re-enlisted in the Army.
Boxing: At his peak in the late 1940s, Reynolds was regarded as one of the outstanding heavyweights -- a guy who won 50 of his first 55 fights and, in May 1949, was ranked ninth in the world by Ring magazine. Two all-time great champions, Ezzard Charles and Jersey Joe Walcott, were first and second, respectively, in that poll. Reynolds was a member of a Cliffside, N.J., fight stable managed by Joe Vella, whom he met in the Army.
On June 28, 1948, Bernie Reynolds captured the New England championship by knocking out Nathan Mann in the fourth round of their bout at the New Haven Arena. A decade earlier, Mann -- born Natale Manchetti -- fought Joe Louis for the heavyweight title and was knocked out in the third round.
Reynolds possessed the confidence and courage to challenge no fewer than three heavyweight champs during his fistic career, albeit with mixed results. He fought Louis, still the reigning champion, in a four-round exhibition in New Haven on Nov. 9, 1948. "Reynolds landed a couple of lefts to Louis' head, but he couldn't get out of the way of Joe's left," wrote the Bridgeport Post, which gave the champion a significant advantage in the fight. The magnanimous Louis said that Reynolds "had a lot of pep in his left hook."
The Reynolds who faced Rocky Marciano and Charles five months apart in 1952 was considerably less sharp that the pre-Korea version. Against Marciano, judges awarded Bernie the first round on points -- the only round the undefeated champ lost in 20 straight fights in Providence, R.I. -- before Marciano prevailed with a third-round knockout.
"He had amazing strength," Reynolds said of the champion who was killed in a 1969 plane crash. "Any time Marciano hit you, he could hurt you. He didn't do much flicking; every punch was a knockout punch."
The fight with Charles in Cincinnati was over virtually before it started. The former champ knocked out Reynolds at 1:40 of the second round.
Even with the lackluster ending, Reynolds concluded his career with 53 wins --33 by knockout -- 13 losses and one draw -- a record that earned him enshrinement, posthumously, in the Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame in 2008.
That impressive boxing record, coupled with his military service during World War II and high school football accomplishments, certain warrants Reynolds' inclusion in the Fairfield Ludlowe Hall of Fame.
Don Harrison, a long-time Fairfield resident, is the author of "Hoops in Connecticut" and "25 Years Plus One: Recounting the Meteoric Rise of Fairfield Basketball."