THIS STORY VIA EARL LEWIS
SYLACAUGA, Ala. -According to information released last month by Jay Deas of Tuscaloosa, a member of the Alabama Boxing Hall of Fame Board of Directors, the late W.G. ”Bill” Irby, a long time resident of Sylacauga, is one of five men selected to the Class of 2018 for the Hall of Fame.
Irby was selected in the Manager/Trainer/Promoter category. Heading the 2018 class is Evander Holyfield in the Professional Boxer category. Holyfield is a native of Atmore and won many titles as a heavyweight. Some of his biggest fights were against Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, and Riddick Bowe.
Others in the 2018 class are Ozark’s Byron Mitchell in the Amateur Boxing category; Eugene Tillman of Mobile in the Old Timer category; and Support Personnel selection Flynn Gerald of Chelsea.
Mitchell was a national Golden Gloves Champion and fought internationally. Tillman was the patriarch of one of Alabama’s premier boxing families. He had over 100 professional fights before 1950. One of his sons was a world ranked welterweight, and another son was a well-known promoter and manager. Gerald was known as the “Iron Ref”. He refereed more bouts than all other Alabama referees combined and is still active today as he nears his 80th birthday.
Irby was a native of Eufaula He came to Sylacauga in the early 1940’s and first worked at the old Alabama Ordinance Works (Powder Plant) in security during World War II. As a youngster he was outstanding in all sports including football and boxing and attended Tulane University on a boxing scholarship. As WWII came to an end, he joined Avondale Mills in 1946 and became the Editor of the company newspaper, the Avondale Sun, a position he held until his death in 1971. He was also a Vice-President of Avondale. As a Golden Gloves Champion he was known nationally. He followed that career with more than 30 professional fights and a stint as a sparring partner for heavyweight champion James J. Braddock.
In his adopted hometown of Sylacauga he organized boxing teams and promoted dozens of boxing events including hosting teams of Native Americans from Oklahoma. He was involved in too many civic endeavors to list here, but always focused on Sylacauga’s youth through the Boy Scouts of America and promotion of the Old Cotton States Tennis Tournament.
His main contribution to Sylacauga’s youth was as the founder of the Sylacauga Boys Club in the early 1950’s. At the club’s inception he was the clubs main fund raiser including thousands of dollars of his personal money. He single-handedly kept the club open during its early years before funding sources became more stable. When Irby and his wife were killed in a tragic car accident in 1971, the Boys Club Board changed the club’s name to the W.G. “Bill” Irby Boys Club as a memorial to Ibry. A few years ago, the clubs name was changed again to the Harold Brooks Boys Club thereby removing the Irby name from the club’s history. Only the Brooks name has been retained since that time in spite of efforts by local citizens to honor both of the two men who have been most instrumental in the club’s success by naming the club the Brooks-Irby or Irby-Brooks Boys Club.
At any rate, Irby is now being given some of the lasting recognition he so richly deserves as a member of the Alabama Boxing Hall of Fame Class of 2018. The Hall of Fame is a new entity on Alabama’s sports scene. 2017 represented the inaugural class t the Hall of Fame. The first class was headed by immortal Heavyweight Champion of the World Joe Louis, a native of Lafayette. The first class also included Deontay Wilder, one of the the current World Heavyweight Champions. Irby’s selection into the Hall of Fame as this early stage makes his selection an even greater honor given the quality of other candidates. The induction ceremony will be held in Tuscaloosa in early 2018 pending some schedule coordination with other boxing events.