“Calvin Woodland Sr. Gave US Vision, Dreams and a Belief in Ourselves…”
On March 16, 1966, as boxing fans filed in to City Arena, in Richmond, Virginia to watch the continuing comeback of Willie “The Will o’ the Wisp” Pep they didn’t realize that they would see the end of one legend and the beginning of another. Pep, one of the greatest fighters of all time was 44 years old and had been swapping leather for pay for 26 years. After retiring in 1959 Pep had resumed his great career in 1965 for financial reasons and was riding a nine bout winning streak. It was a sad day for Pep fans however, as he lost a six round decision to Calvin Woodland, Sr. a scrappy 5’3 ½” jr. lightweight. Pep retired for good with only his 11th loss in 242 total bouts and lived out his life in boxing immortality. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
Calvin Woodland, Sr. continued to fight on until 1973 and retired with a final record of 19-5, with 14 K.O.’s. Along the way, he lost to two future world champions; Carlos “Teo” Cruz and Alfredo Marciano. He was known for his aggressive nonstop style and was a real crowd pleasing fighter. However, it was not the boxing ring where he gained his fame and admiration, but rather in the battle of life. Calvin Woodland, Sr. was a true champion and his legacy lives on.
Calvin, born in Washington, D.C, in 1940, was one of four children and grew up near Columbia Heights. His father (Freddie) was a chef at a downtown carryout and was also one of the first blacks to have his own truck route for the old Arcade Sunshine Laundry company. His mother, (Juanita) was a waitress for Soldier’s Home for over 30 years. Calvin loved sports, especially football, and he discovered a love for boxing after his brother-in-law, realized Calvin was very good at it. He graduated from Roosevelt High School and landed a job as a mail carrier, but Calvin still had a love for Boxing so he began boxing as an amateur and then turned pro. He had come up the hard way and wanted to give back to youth and led them on the right path. He used much of his professional boxing ring earnings to start many neighborhood sports programs and became a legendary figure in the impoverished public housing developments of Southeast Washington. He spent more than 30 years of his life keeping kids off the unforgiving streets of SE Anacostia, one of the poorest sections of Washington, D.C. where he had lived since the 1960’s.
He became a mentor to hundreds of kids who played on his football teams (WOODLAND RAIDERS), and boxed in his makeshift rings and competed in his annual junior Olympic programs. His young athletes were honored in parades and cheered by hundreds of spectators. He held annual award banquets where he gave out trophies and jackets to team members and to the cheerleaders, and he always acknowledged their sponsors and supporters. Those jackets were the only winter coats some would own. Many of his youngsters completed college and had successful business careers; some became successful professional athletes, and still today have so much gratitude, respect and love for Calvin.
Calvin Woodland Jr., who we call “Rock,” the pet name his father had given him earlier in life, said that more than 20 different kids lived with them at various times. He remembers that his father once found a 7 year old kid sleeping in a telephone booth and took him home. It was more than three years before the boy’s mother finally came and took him back with her. “Rock” said that many of the neighborhood kids used to think that they were rich because of what his father did for everyone, but they were just as poor as everyone else. “Rock” also had it hard, often times getting into fights and getting into trouble. He says, “I was making my father look bad, he was out there trying to keep kids from doing the things I was doing.” However, it was the discipline and love his father had instilled in him which ultimately helped to turn his life around. “When I was ready to change, I was able to draw on everything he had given me…he was my source of strength.”
On April 4, 2000, Calvin Woodland Sr. died at the Potomac Rehabilitation Center, in Arlington, after suffering a stroke. He was 60 years old.
The following year the Calvin Woodland Sr. Foundation was incorporated by family and friends and is ran today by Tywannda Blount, a niece of Calvin, Sr. “The Foundation, in honor of the legacy of Calvin Woodland Sr. is committed to developing and imparting programs and services that remove the barriers that negatively impact the lives of low income residents along with providing activities and services for the children of Ward 8 communities and surrounding areas throughout the District of Columbia. Calvin Woodland Sr.’s legacy continues today through the eyes of many because of his works, and his caring heart. We strive to continue in the footsteps helping to fight for our communities.”
On September 27, 2008, officials of the District of Columbia showed their appreciation for Calvin Woodland Sr., by renaming the street where he had lived to Calvin Woodland Sr. Place. More than 200 residents and city officials were in attendance, many of whom were recipients of Calvin Woodland’s good deeds and those of the Calvin Woodland Sr. Foundation. This was a fitting tribute to a man who had given his life to helping others in need.
For those who went to the City Arena, in Richmond, Virginia on that fateful March night in 1966 full of anticipation of the continuing career of Willie Pep, and left with sadness at witnessing his final fight could never have imagined the impact his opponent, Calvin Woodland, would have on humanity in the coming years. Such was the life of Calvin Woodland, Sr.…
“A True Champion in Life”