It is open to question where Wilbert McClure posed a greater challenge: in the ring or in the classroom.
As a psychology professor at Northeastern University in Boston in the 1970s, he was known not as the greatest Olympian that Toledo ever produced but the instructor for the slothful to avoid.
A colleague once advised McClure to ease up, reminding him their students were not of the same high-minded ilk as, say, the Harvard men just across the Charles River.
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"That's bull," said McClure, 73, in a phone interview from his home in Chestnut Hill, Mass. "My standards were clear. My students understood. Doggone it, if you misspelled 16 words and didn't know where to put a period and a comma, you got an F. That's all there was to it. And if you get an A or a B, that will be an A or a B at any place on earth."
Forgive McClure if he doesn't suffer excuses.
Here was a classic American success story, one of the Toledo's own who willed himself from the old Brand-Whitlock Homes to the backseat perch of a convertible as the guest of honor in a ticker-tape parade through downtown. A University of Toledo graduate who earned degrees in philosophy and literature, a doctorate in psychology and a gold medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
You want adversity? Try McClure's light middleweight bout against Italian Carmelo Bossi in the Olympic final, where the least of his problems was a busted right hand that meant his punches inflicted more pain on the deliverer than the recipient. Against the backdrop of the Cold War, the 21-year-old American known as Skeeter faced a hometown favorite, a Russian referee, and partisan judges. Four out of five of the boxing jurors came from Iron Curtain countries.
"We had no illusions as to what we were up against," McClure's trainer, Buddy Carr, later said.
So, no, McClure does not want to hear why something can't be done. A job is either finished, or it's not.
McClure proved that the night of Sept. 6, 1960, before a capacity crowd of 16,200 at the Palazzo dello sport in Rome when he became the first -- and still the only -- Toledo native to win an Olympic gold medal.
"Before I'm outfought, I'll fight so hard I'll have a heart attack," he said. "I'll die. I meant that. Nobody was going to outfight me."
A fight to the top
That approach applied to all corners of McClure's life.
The oldest of Evelyn and Wilbert McClure's five children, McClure was a veritable Renaissance man. In later years, the Scott High School graduate performed on the stage at UT -- he played dual roles in Aristophanes' "The Birds" and Howard in "Finian's Rainbow" -- wrote books, taught at three universities, and practiced as a psychologist.
Yet his most satisfying endeavor in a life filled with them came inside the Olympic ropes.
McClure, whose father was a boxer who once fought on the same card as Joe Louis in Detroit, began sparring as a 13-year-old and soon climbed the amateur ranks under the guidance of Toledo cop Buddy Carr at the Police Athletic League gym.
The 156-pound McClure won two Golden Gloves titles, two national AAU championships, and a gold medal at the 1959 Pan American Games in Chicago. If not the most powerful puncher, he was quick, lithe, and versed in the strategy of the fight game.
"He was smart, very smart," said Carr, now 86, in a phone interview from his Toledo home. "He knew all the tricks, and that's what made him a fantastic fighter. Boxing is an art. It's balance, timing."
Among those who took notice was a teenage boxer from Louisville named Cassius Clay.
"I was a model for him," McClure said. "He told me this. He liked the way I boxed."
As the U.S. delegation prepared to leave for the 1960 Olympics, the 18-year-old Clay was already a superstar --at least in his own mind. "I'll be the greatest of all time," Clay promised sports writer Dick Schaap before the Games.
The soft-spoken McClure later facetiously gave in to his friend's urgings to think more positively. Before a nationally televised middleweight bout at Madison Square Garden in 1964, McClure told reporters, "I'm the greatest! I'm the prettiest! I'm the mostest?"
Truthfully, McClure said, Ali's "cockiness was a put-on. He was a great marketer of himself and he was a good young man."
Beneath the bluster, the boxer who gained fame as Muhammad Ali was hardly invincible. Clay was so afraid of flying that McClure and his Olympic teammates had to talk him onto the plane bound for Rome.
"If God wanted us to fly, he would give us wings," Clay kept saying, according to the book Rome 1960 by David Maraniss.
"Well, we're flying and we ain't go no wings, so how do you explain that?" McClure replied.
A Cold War clash
McClure landed in Rome as an eager tourist.
"My first thoughts … were of the great Romans of the past -- Caesar, Brutus, Augustus," McClure wrote in a diary entry printed in The Blade. "Here was where they walked."
His focus, however, quickly turned to more current events as the Games opened during a particularly tense time of the Cold War. Days earlier, American pilot Francis Gary Powers was convicted of espionage after his U-2 spy plane was shot down over Soviet land.
After McClure won his first three Olympic bouts, he knew outside factors would be in play in the championship against Bossi. The better fighter did not always win.
"He was meeting an Italian in Italy," Carr said at the time. "The Italians had six men in the finals, and most of them got there through incompetent judging. … Four of the five judges are from Iron Curtain countries. One of them, Nagy of Hungary, hadn't awarded a single decision to a Western country."
For McClure, there was only one path to gold.
"He knew he had to win big," Carr said. "There could be no question."
McClure, fighting through a busted right hand suffered in his first match, veered from the plan. He struggled early and trailed after the first two rounds. But he opened the final bell with a left and right to Bossi's jaw and continued the flurry of blows. "The Italian's knees buckled and his eyes were glazed as he fought on desperately," the Associated Press reported.
By the end, McClure had indeed left no question. He won a 4-1 decision, joining U.S. teammates Clay and Eddie Crook, a 31-year-old Army sergeant, atop the medal stand. (Naturally, Nagy gave the decision to Bossi.)
A hero returns
McClure returned home days later a conquering hero. As his plane approached the terminal at Toledo Express Airport, he spotted a distant throng of humanity in wait.
"Wow, somebody famous must be on this plane," McClure recalled telling the woman seated next to him.
Who knew? It was still a time when the world did not stop for the Olympics --the 1960 Games were the first to be commercially televised in the United States.
But on this day, Toledo did. Some 1,000 supporters greeted McClure at the airport, including the Scott and Woodward bands, blaring "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" and "We're Strong for Toledo." Another 10,000 waited along the streets as McClure and a 100-car caravan headed for downtown.
McClure finished his amateur career 138-10. He won his first 14 fights as a professional and retired with a 24-8-1 record, though he wonders now if he should have put aside his gloves after the Olympics.
McClure, who recently retired as a professor and still operates a management training and consulting firm, calls his pro career "mismanaged."
Besides, how could it have topped 1960?
More than a half-century later, as the Olympics return to Europe later this month, he proudly tells the new generation his story as a modern parable.
"The gold medal meant that I was the best in the world," McClure said. "There's a lot of boxing in America, and that's fine. But when you look at being awarded best in the world in a foreign country with foreign judges, that's really something."
Contact David Briggs at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.