Interesting Stories of Yester-Year
courtesy of Boxrec Free Encyclopedia
Rudell Stitch might never have won an Olympic gold medal, a world title belt or the Medal of Freedom that was bestowed on his friend, Muhammad Ali.
Yet the Louisville welterweight, who rose to number two in the world rankings in early 1960, earned a distinction that even “the Greatest” is unlikely to achieve: Stitch was one of only four people in the past century to be awarded two Carnegie Hero Medals for risking his life to save another.
The fighter drowned in the summer of 1960 when he deliberately swam back into the swirling Ohio River in an effort to save his friend Charles Oliver, who had slipped from a ledge at the McAlpine lock and pulled Stitch in with him.
“Rudell was swimming toward shore and Charlie started yelling, and Rudell turned around and went back to get him,” recalled Rich Keeling, Stitch’s longtime friend.
The drowning 6-foot, 180-pound Oliver still had his waders on when he grabbed the 5-foot-8, 146-pound Stitch, and they disappeared.
In 1958, Stitch, the father of five boys and one girl, had rescued a stranger, Army Corps Engineers worker Joseph Shifcar, who fell into the river near the same site.
Stitch’s oldest child, Donald, still has the fighter’s Carnegie Hero Medals, his boxing robe, several scrapbooks of clippings, and a few precious memories of his parents.
Donald was only 9 when his father died. The children lost their mother, Rosa, just four years later.
“Our grandmother came down from Detroit when our father died, and after mother passed, she kept all of us together at the house there — instead of us getting separated. She took us to church, worked day work, got Social Security, and we never wanted for anything. The lights were never turned out,” Donald Stitch remembered.
Donald’s youngest brother, Daryl, later fought in the Golden Gloves, but Donald found football much more to his liking and earned a scholarship to Jackson State University.
Although Donald Stitch really hasn’t recovered from the early loss of his parents, he has a wonderful legacy of his father that sportswriters, fighters and other fans of the sport have preserved over the decades — including one of the most revealing episodes of Stitch’s short but brilliant 27-7-0 pro career.
“In the third round of his fight with Gasper Ortega in Madison Square Garden, they accidentally butted heads,” said Mickey Clark of the Louisville Sports Report, a friend of Stitch. “Rudell wasn’t hurt, but Ortega was staggering around, and Rudell sort of backed away and wouldn’t continue to hit him.”
Stitch, who was leading the fight on points at the time, later told Clark that he didn’t believe in taking advantage of an opponent after a head-butt.
Although Ortega would win a decision, Stitch’s action helped define his integrity in the boxing world as a fighter in a class all his own.
Clark, Keeling and numerous others who revere Stitch’s contributions to boxing — and humanity — hope that somewhere in Louisville’s new Muhammad Ali Center, space can one day be found for an exhibit commemorating the fighter.
A Bible verse that Stitch — a member of the Hope Presbyterian Church — had doubtless heard many times in his youth life is cradled along the gilded edges of his two Carnegie Hero Medals: “Greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends.” In that elite class of heroes, Rudell Stitch is among the greatest.
Award Named In His Honor Shortly after his death, the National Boxing Association created the Rudell Stitch Sportsmanship Award.