One of the classiest boxers to ever lace-up a pair of gloves is Dr. Wilbert “Skeeter” McClure, who is the only American boxer to capture an Olympic gold-medal and also earn a Doctor of Philosophy degree (Ph.D).
“When I think of ‘Skeeter’ McClure,” USA Boxing president John Brown said, “I think of the grassroots of our sport. When ‘Skeeter’ was a young boy growing up in Toledo, Ohio, he had a twinkle in his eye and a desire to box. We would learn later in life how talented, gifted and passionate ‘Skeeter’ McClure was about the sport of boxing.
“It would be impossible for me, somebody who has spent his entire life in boxing, to find a better representative of our sport than ‘Skeeter’ McClure.”
Nicknamed “Skeeter” because his father thought he looked no bigger than a mosquito at birth, McClure was born October 29, 1938 in Toledo, Ohio, and he developed into the perfect example of brains and brawn.
The now 79-year-old McClure earned degrees in literature and philosophy in 1961 from the University of Toledo and a doctorate in psychology from Wayne State University in Detroit. He was a professor at Northeastern University and late became a Massachusetts state boxing commissioner. In 2012, he was honored for his life’s work by the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School.
McClure had an incredible boxing career, highlighted by his gold-medal performance at the 1960 Olympic Games, defeating his Italian opponent in Rome, Carmelo Bossi, to capture the light middleweight gold medal, despite fighting with a severely damaged hand suffered in the semifinals. The two other American gold medalists that year was his roommate and team co-captain, Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali) and Eddie Crook, Jr.
During his illustrious amateur career, McClure was dominant in 1959-1960, winning gold medals at the 1959 Pan-American Games, two-time National AAU tournaments, 1958 International Diamond Belt. He was also named Outstanding U.S. Amateur Boxer in 1959.
Al Valenti, Special Projects Consultant for USA Boxing, has known McClure as long as anybody alive, “I had the pleasure of meeting ‘Skeeter’ McClure in the late eighties,” Valenti noted, “and since the day I met him I’ve held him in the highest esteem.
I cannot find another boxer who has achieved what ‘Skeeter’ has during his life in boxing. He was a talented amateur boxer who won at every level and, beyond that, he served in the U.S. Army, earned a Ph.D in psychology, and he also had a long career as a college professor. One thing that stands out among his accomplishments is that he’s the kindest, most sincere gentlemen I’ve ever met.
“During his tenure on the Massachusetts Boxing Commission, he fully understood the sport and what was needed. As a promoter, I was never busier than when he oversaw boxing in Massachusetts. One of the highlights of my life is when I introduced ‘Skeeter’ to crowds at our events, after listening to his lists of accomplishments, how the crowd always gave him a standing ovation.
“Dr. Wilbert ‘Skeeter” McClure is a true champion and a class act. No American boxer will ever accomplish what he did.”
“I first met Wilbert at the 1964 National AAU Championships,” 1972 Olympic bronze medalist Jesse Valdez commented. “I had just turned 16. I had won the National Golden Gloves for the first time and went to the National AAU and got beaten by Quincy Daniels, who had won a bronze medalist at the 1960 Olympics with Wilbert.
“I said hello but really didn’t know Wilbert. I was young, shy and kept to myself. I didn’t realize he was an Olympic gold medal winner until later, while taking with the other guys. I was really impressed by his background.
“Wilbert is somebody kids today need to look up to. He’s a great example for kids coming up and dreaming about winning an Olympic gold medal. And Wilbert went on to get an education. He’s a great example for kids today in the program (USA Boxing).”
Legendary amateur boxing coach Roosevelt Sanders, who last year was inducted into the first class of the USA Boxing Alumni Association Hall of Fame, lost to McClure in the 1960 USA Olympic Trials.
“He (McClure) has always been nice to me,” Sanders added. “I didn’t know him, personally, but met him, fought him, and saw him fight on television. He’s a smart guy, always a gentleman, and being a U.S. Marine, we were taught to absorb that.”
In 1961, McClure turned pro and he was billed as the next Sugar Ray Robinson, largely due their similar boxing style. No endorsements, though, and the odds were really stacked against McClure reaching the same heights as a pro that he had attained as an amateur.
During the early part of his professional career, McClure served in the U.S. Army, attended college and was married with a baby. After only 14 pro fights, the mismanaged McClure was rushed into difficult matches against the likes of future world champions and Hall of Famers Luis Rodriguez (twice) and Jose Torres, plus No. 1 contender Ruben “Hurricane” Carter (twice), from 1963 to 1966.
McClure was on the losing end of four of those five fights, all by decisions, but he did fight Carter to a draw.
McClure retired from the ring in 1970 with a 24-9 (12 KOs) professional record. He eventually resettled in the Boston suburb of Chestnut Hill, where he taught at Northeastern University and later was a consultant to industry and government, teaching administrators how to deal with people.