Always in their corner
Sitting down over their kau kau tins at meal time or pausing along dusty cane haul roads, when workers at the now-defunct O'ahu Sugar Co. encountered Al Silva, the question was largely the same for nearly a half century:
"How your manoks (chickens)?"
By day Silva was a supervisor for the company but in his off hours he was legendary in Waipahu for training fighters — "manoks" to many of those of Filipino ancestry he worked with.
With three world champions and dozens of territorial and state titlists, seldom, it seemed, was the wall at the old Waipahu Gym without a newspaper clipping heralding the exploits of at least one of his boxers.
Honoring a career that began just after World War II and went up to the 21st century, Silva will be inducted into the Hawai'i Sports Hall of Fame tomorrow night at Honolulu Country Club.
Silva, now in his 90s, will join championship surfers Lynne Boyer and Gerry Lopez, and taekwondo champion and coach Dae Sung Lee in the 2009 class of inductees.
In the ring, as territorial lightweight champion, Silva gave as good as he got. Outside it, he tirelessly gave generations of youths a place to go after school and a sense of discipline and pride as well as boxing pointers.
He started Andy Ganigan, Jesus Salud and Brian Viloria toward world championships and Paul Lucas and countless others toward amateur titles.
Always he did it with the sternest of a no-nonsense mentor and the love of a favorite uncle. He'd work with anybody who wandered into the gym, provided they trained seriously, asking only that they leave "play time" and the vices of the street at the door.
"I love that old man," Salud, a former World Boxing Association super bantamweight champion, will tell you at the mention of Silva's name. "He's been like a father figure to me. He's taught me so much; not only about boxing but about life. About everything."
So well known was Silva that Salud would commute by bus from Nanakuli to study under him, begging him to "make me a champion." When torrential rains or withering summer heat would empty out the gym, Silva would still be there for anybody who showed.
Silva hardly did it for the money, though he could have done very well had he selfishly tied down his fighters into their big paycheck days. He was content to build their foundations, as fighters and men, and then proudly watch their ascent.
When Salud and Viloria fought on the same Convention Center pro card in 2001, they each had the same request: Would Silva work in their corners?
It mattered little that Silva was 84 then. It was heartfelt recognition that without him they wouldn't be there.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com or 525-8044.