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Rockaway Beach loses iconic figure


On Feb. 15, Rockaway Beach City Council Member Rich Riley died at the age of 75.

The following stories are previously published stories that highlight the life of Rich Riley.

 

Rich Riley’s fighting past

 

Rich Riley has been involved in just about every volunteer position in Rockaway Beach-from municipal court judge to city council president.

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Besides being a father of four boys, the soft spoken man has also been a part of the Rockaway Budget Commission, Planning Commission, and Safety Commission. He’s been president of the Lions Club, vice president of the Tillamook Chapter of the Northwest Steelheaders and a Tillamook County Special Olympics coach.

 

It’s safe to say Riley lives a very public life. But, he’s managed to keep one part of his life fairly secret.

 

As a young man, Riley spend 10 years as a amateur boxer with a career so successful, he was asked to join the professional boxing ranks. Riley declined the offer and retired from the sport before he was brought into the limelight of professional athletes.

 

Riley grew up on a dairy farm in Neosho, Missouri. Back then, it was young Rich’s job to milk the cows by hand and throw hay bales. His inadvertent daily workouts set the stage for his boxing career to begin when he was just 13 years old.

 

“I fought my first Gold Glove tournament in 1950 when I was 13, and my last fight was at 23,” Riley said.

 

I that 10-year stretch, Riley was incredibly successful in the Gold Gloves Amatuer Boxing tournaments, winning the featherweight, bantamweight, lightweight and welterweight divisions as he progressed.

 

Back then, the Golden Gloves tournaments were split into two categories, “Novice” for the beginners and “Open” for boxers who had previously won a Golden Glove tournament. Riley noted that back then, there weren’t as many divisions for fighters. If you were over 180 pounds you were considered a heavyweight, and there were no separations between the ages of the boxers.

 

“The first ad only bout I ever lost, I was 16,” Riley said. “I lost to 26-year-old Jerome Seaman from South Carolina. It’s so funny, out of the hundreds of fights throughout my career I won, I remember every second of the one I lost.”

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A young Rich Riley delivers the knockout blow to John Jacklin from St. Louis just 37 seconds into the first round, giving Riley the Golden Gloves championship in 1953.

 

But there was one fight her admittedly regrets to this day.

 

“I did a lot of street fighting when I was young and one of the saddest stories of my life came at a fight after a baseball game,” Riley said. “I can see his face now. A big old blond, curly headed farm boy named Jackie Lawson. I just beat the tar out of him. Must have knocked him down seven times.

 

“About three months later, I saw him fighting three guys and he knocked every single one of the them out in a row. He just pummeled them. I cam up to him and asked him why he didn’t fight me like that and I’ll never forget what he said. He said, ‘I couldn’t hit you Rich. You’re my friend.’ He took a whippin’ in front of a big crowd because he was my friend. It still bothers me to this day, but I told my boys that story because I felt so small. I hope they got something out if it.”

 

But aside from that one night, there are many more fights of which Riley remains proud.

 

“I still hold a few records,” Riley said with a glimmer in his eye. “In the Tournament of Champions, which is for all the Golden Glove past champions, there were so many welterweights I fought three times the first night and scored three first-round knockouts.

 

There’s no official total on the number of fights Riley took part in while in the Air Force or as a Golden Glove Amateur, but the estimate is at least 45 during his five years at the Golden Gloves level alone.

 

In the 1950s and 1960s, fighters’ safety wasn’t a priority and many fighters developed Pugilistic Parkinson’s disease, a disease that has long been associated with head injuries ad concussions in sports, particularly boxing.

 

“I never even noticed it, but other people did and had seen some other really great fighters who were in really bad shape because of it,” Riley said with remorse in his voice.

 

Riley was tested by multiple doctors who all came to the same conclusion-if he continued to fight, the disease and the shaking would continue to worsen.

 

“I didn’t want it to get worse, so in 1964 I quit boxing,” Riley said.

 

Riley started a career with a company installing escalators and elevators, eventually becoming a national sales manager. He retired with that same company, and over the years buried his boxing career in the past.

 

In fact, he kept it a secret, even from close friends, because of the inevitable question that would arise.

 

“I can’t tell you how many times even good friends would come over to the house and see all the boxing medals and trophies and want to see if they could beat me,” Riley said. “They couldn’t, and I lost a lot of friends. It broke my wife’s heart. Now I just don’t talk about it because people’s impression of a fighter is derelict, perverted, deviant, brain dead, illiterate kin to Mike Tyson who bites people’s ears off.

 

“They forget about the Sugar Ray Lenoards, the Floyd Pattersons, the Roy Jones Jr’s. They were all gentlemen. That’s how boxing is supposed to be.

 

For the first time in 50 years, Golden Glove champion Rich Riley returns to the boxing ring to teach his young protege

Chris Henley has spent a lot of time in the gym and it has started to pay off.

The recent Tillamook graduate was busy competing in the school’s soccer, cross country, wrestling and baseball teams.

When he wasn’t wearing the red-and-black of the Cheesemakers, Henley was spending time at The Warehouse training with Rich Riley of Rockaway Beach.

Riley, who is a sanctioned boxing coach with the U.S.A. Amateur Boxing Association, returned to the ring after a 50-year absence about three years ago when he saw Henley fight as a 14-year-old against a much larger and older opponent.

Henley had started boxing in the ring several years earlier and when Riley first watched him in the ring, the teenager impressed the former Golden Gloves Champion.

Soon, Riley was helping train the young boxer.

That recently paid off with a second place finish this spring in the Oregon Golden Gloves championships for the 17-year old boxer.

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When Riley first watched the young Henley in the ring, he said that he saw himself. “He’s a good kid and I could see that instantly. I could see it in his eyes,” he said more than three years ago.

His opinion of Henley’s skills and his athleticism still haven’t changed.

Riley spent several hours a week working with the recent graduate of Tillamook High School in The Warehouse gym in The Port of Tillamook Bay. He pushes Henley through a series of high-tempo and quick-changing drills designed to help continue to develop Henley’s skills and endurance.

He also has helped to prepare the young boxer for the Golden Gloves-level of competition and knowing the rules and regulations that must be followed.

“We had to go register with U.S.A. Boxing and they gave him a Pass Book that looks like a passport. Everywhere we go to fight, I can’t work his corner until they see this (showing the small book). I have to be a sanctioned coach and he has to be a sanctioned fighter. This book has all of his records in it.”

That is somewhat different than when Riley was boxing in the late 1950s. “In the days that I fought, they’d lie about the number of fights they had,” Riley said, smiling. “They can’t do that anymore. It is all in here. They take this book and check him out. They give him a physical meach day of the tournament. Safety is a priority.”

Riley said that he gets a list of sanctioned fights in four states. “We pick the ones that we want to fight in,” Riley said.

“The U.S.A. Sanctioned events are professional, well-organized and conducted. Most of Chris’ opponents were considerable older than he is – six years to eight years older – but we took the bouts for experience. He had to schedule bouts against boxers his own age but both turned out to be cancelled due to ‘No Show’s.’  They did not show up,” Riley said. “They were lucky.”

Making sure Chris finished high school was a big thing for Riley that also impacted the fights that the pair could select. According to the coach, if there was a conflict with school, it would be school that would take precedence.

“He has to go to school, so if there’s one in Bend, but the weigh-ins are at 8 o’clock Friday morning, we probably can’t make that. We go through it (the list) together – with fights in Beaverton, Spokane, Idaho, Kennewick, Seattle, Montana, and Portland. We’d highlight the ones we could take.

“There are about five gyms we fight at in Portland,” Riley added.

One of the biggest things that helped Henley develop in the ring is the chance to workout with Jeremy Cham, Riley said.

“We were fortunate this year to have a outstanding sparring partner, also from Tillamook, four-time Oregon Golden Gloves Champion Jeremy Cham. We both agree that Chris Henley is a “natural” in boxing and has a bright future if he elects to continue in this sport and if he should catch you with his left hook … it will be “lights out,” Riley said.

“Chris had the opportunity to enter the Oregon Golden Gloves this year in the Novice division which includes boxers with less than eight fights and close to his own age but he chose to enter the Open Division as the Champions of the Open Division can move on to Regionals in Las Vegas,” Riley said earlier this year. “He fought in the Senior Men’s Open which is the most advanced class with no limits on the number of bouts and fighters could be up to 40 years old.”

Earlier this year, Henley made it to the Golden Gloves Championship in the open division, with 28-year old Jose Mesa of Medford.

“On paper, it was a clear mismatch,” said Riley. “Jose is 28. Chris is 17.  Jose has 38 fights. Chris had four.

“Jose was the defending Oregon State Golden Gloves Champion, the defending west coast Regional Champion and a competitor at the National Golden Gloves Tournament versus young Chris, with four bouts and in first Golden Gloves Tournament,” the coach said.

“But statistics can be deceiving,” Riley said. “They stood toe-to-toe for the first two rounds. They exchanged punch after punch. Chris staggered Jose a couple of times with a vicious left hook and a combination, but the Champion, Mesa, was quick to recover.”

Chris might not have won the championship but he is the only man in Tillamook County that has a 2015 Oregon Golden Gloves medal around his neck, added Riley.

One thing that Riley also planned after Henley’s second-place finish in the Golden Glove tournament was to surprise his young charge with something special – a Golden Gloves jacket.

 

Pair bond on the road

Another thing that impressed Riley when he first met Henley several years ago was he found out that the young boxer was succeeding spite of a harsh personal life.

“When I got the call to ask me if I would train him, I learned he didn’t have anything.  He had no boxing shoes, headgear, protective cup, hand wraps etc.  He would use what ever was laying around at the gym,” Riley said.

“That was one of my first things, to equip him with his own gear.  During the past three years, Chris and I have traveled to numerous places in this state to box. Some were over-night trips, eating out, motels, restaurants, were all something new to young Chris and part of his maturation,” the president of the Rockaway Beach City Council said.

“Here I am 75 and he just turned 18 and yet we enjoy our times together,” Riley said.

For Riley, it has been a pleasure watching Henley mature, in the ring and in life. “He’s been trying to balance his life. He was in other sports at the high school,” Riley said.

When Riley handed his protégé the black Golden Gloves jacket recently, Henley was surprised. “Oh coach…”

“I hope that you will cherish this the rest of your life. There are six guys in the state of Oregon with one of these – and you are one of them,” Riley said. “And if you ever lose it, I am going to hunt you down,” he added, smiling. “You earned it. I was really proud of you.”

Henley reminded his coach that when they first met, the young fighter had told Riley that “it doesn’t matter who he is or how big he is, I’ll fight him. It doesn’t mean I’ll win, but I will fight him.”

“Be proud of it (the jacket). You did a helluva job,” Riley said as he watched Henley put the jacket on for the first time.

Now, Riley stressed, the Marines may be getting one of the few and the proud – and one of the best in Tillamook County – both inside the ring and outside.