Imagine walking in downtown Brevard in the early evening and you hear the faint, distant sounds of a voice intoning “And in this corner, at 140 pounds…” Casual strollers could hear this during the mid-1950’s, when, during a short window of three years, boxing matches were held on a regular basis. Prior to time, there were few organized events that took place in Brevard. Two amateur matches were staged at the Brevard Play House in 1938 between several teams of boxers, including one from the Civilian Conservation Corp. In the early fifties, Ecusta Mill held several amateur boxing matches at their annual Fourth of July picnic.
This is not to say there was no interest in boxing in Transylvania County. In 1927, private citizens in Rosman constructed a boxing ring between the Rosman Café and Whitmire’s Barber Shop, complete with lights and seating, to instruct young boys in the arts of fisticuffs. The Brevard News noted that “…in a few weeks we may be able to turn out a multitude of young Dempseys.” There was also great excitement during the early 1930’s when Herbert “Pug” Hinton, a local boy still in high school, won a series of amateur fights, leading him to turn professional, with some limited success. But all his fights took place out of the county, a number of them at the Oceola Lake pavilion in Henderson County.
Regular bouts came to Brevard through the efforts of a single individual named Carl King Chastain Jr. Chastain, born in Leicester N.C. in 1931, was a tremendous athlete and four letterman at both West Buncombe High and the Ben Lippen School, playing football, basketball, baseball, and track. He picked up boxing at the age of 16 and embarked on a sporadic professional career at 18, fighting occasionally.
After high school, Chastain was offered a baseball scholarship to Wingate University. Following his freshman year, he was given a tryout with the Brooklyn Dodgers and then spent several years playing minor league baseball in both Salisbury and Lexington. Choosing a new direction, he moved here to attend Brevard College. Carl supported his wife and young son by working the graveyard and evening shifts at the Ecusta Paper Mill, allowing him to attend Brevard College during the day.
Chastain somehow found time to pitch for both the Ecusta and Brevard College baseball teams, playing and managing the Brevard American Legion Team, volunteering at the Camp Harry H. Strauss Coaching School for Boys, and bowling in the Ecusta interdepartmental league. Needing additional money for college, he began fighting as a lightweight, primarily in Asheville and other small cities in the region. It was not easy for someone with Chastain’s schedule. After a losing effort in a 10-round fight against Don Bowman in Knoxville, a Transylvania Times reporter observed “how difficult it is to fight ten rounds after working graveyard.”
As if he were not busy enough, Chastain, together with John Anderson, organized the amateur Brevard Boxing Club for teens in late 1954. The club was organized into two groups of fighters, those under or over 17 years of age. The young men trained in the basement of the Pickelsimer building on West Main Street. During the years between 1955-57, they fought similar clubs from towns such as Tryon, Waynesville, Asheville, and Spartanburg, some even as far away as Florence, S.C.
The Brevard matches were usually held at the American Legion Hall and admission money went to worthy causes like the March of Dimes or Boy Scouts. The Moose Lodge was also a sponsor. Each match usually had 10-12 fights of three rounds each. As an added attraction, Chastain himself would usually fight another professional boxer for free. Gil Coan, the well-known professional baseball player, even refereed one match.
Fighters in the Brevard Boxing Club included Bob “Peanut” McCall, Allen Jones, Eddie Taylor, Joe Hubbard, Randall Branson, Howard Tiger, and Francis Fanning. A group of three brothers, Cecil, Irbyan, and Boyce Lowery, all participated. Cecil, who went by the nickname “Biff”, was referred to as “Brevard’s knockout artist” and “the hardest punching amateur boxer in the Western Carolina” according to promotions. The club was usually successful. In one match, Brevard won 11 out of 14 fights. Several of the fighters won Golden Gloves awards in their weight division.
Some matches included African-American fighters. One bout in February of 1956 featured a “Battle Royal” with “four colored boxers battling it out until one is left standing.” The same evening also had Mack Gardin, a “colored fighter from Brevard” on the card. The Brevard Boxing Club even put on an exhibition at the Ecusta Fourth of July picnic that included “a match or two with colored boxers pitted against each other.”
In April of 1956, the first professional match was held in Brevard at the Legion Hall, and Chastain knocked out his opponent. Another fighter, Joe Newman of Brevard, lost his match while Earl Mooney, also of Brevard, won his match.
There is no more mention of the boxing club in the newspapers from 1957 on. Chastain himself had set his sights on winning the North Carolina lightweight championship. He defeated Willie Dean, Ray Hutchins of Charlotte, and then James Page of Durham to set up a title fight against Rocky Randall, the lightweight champion of Florida. In January of 1958, 30 days before his title bout with Randall, Chastain was in the hospital to have his tonsils removed. According to the newspaper the fight was still on, but according to boxing records, the fight never took place, the reason unknown. Chastain ended his professional career with 20 wins, 18 losses, and one tie. His final match was against Buck Earnhardt of Hendersonville in October, 1959, which he won by points.
After leaving Brevard, he founded and coached several youth baseball and football teams. He picked up bowling again and qualified for a PBA national event. Carl Chastain passed away in Shelby in 2012. Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. This article was written by Local History Assistant Joe Russo. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820.