West Sacramento honors hometown boxing great Joey Lopes

The Joseph "Joey" Lopes Park in West Sacramento.

The Joseph “Joey” Lopes Park in West Sacramento.

The stone and steel artwork honoring boxer Joey Lopes was done by Denver artist Michael Clapper.

The stone and steel artwork honoring boxer Joey Lopes was done by Denver artist Michael Clapper.

I went to the official opening of the Joseph “Joey” Lopes Park in West Sacramento last Friday. A couple of hundred people attended the upbeat ceremony to celebrate the years-long effort to create a 4-acre park off West Capitol Avenue and to honor a hometown boxer who achieved national recognition when boxing was riding high in the 1950s.

“I remember seeing him fight on black-and-white television,” said Lou Campos, a racquetball player at my athletic club and a mainstay of the Legends of Boxing youth program in West Sacramento. “He was the best fighter to come out of West Sac and fought for the lightweight title.”

From the accounts of speakers at the ceremony, Lopes stirred up excitement in Sacramento sports circles in the 1950s and early 1960s, back when pro sports were mostly a distant dream both locally and in the S.F. Bay area. Big crowds would fill Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium to watch Lopes as he fought his up through the lightweight rankings.

The television market was booming, and the “Gillette Cavalcade of Sports” spurred boxing’s popularity in an era when Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, Archie Moore and Floyd Patterson were big names.

In 1955, the up-and-coming Lopes shocked the boxing world when he won a unanimous decision over Sandy Saddler in a non-title fight at Memorial Auditorium. Saddler won the world featherweight title two times and was best known for four brawls in New York City against Willie Pep, rated the No. 1 featherweight in the 20th century by the Associated Press.

In August 1957, Lopes staked his claim to the big time when he went to Chicago for a non-title bout against lightweight champion Joe Brown. Lopes fought Brown to a draw and was rewarded with a title shot in December. The hard-fought battle, which was televised nationally, ended in the 11th round. Here’s an account by United Press:

Joe Brown put all his power in a few punches tonight to retain his world lightweight championship with a TKO victory over Joey Lopes at 1:50 of the 11th round of their scheduled 15 round title bout. Brown was hard pressed to stave off the aggressive tactics of Lopes. But it seemed that he was holding his power, awaiting an opening, and when it came he had the know-how, in his 92nd pro fight, to finish up the brawl. Lopes was knocked to the canvas for the first time in his 58 fight career, not once, but three times, and mercifully, he wound up on his feet tonight when referee Joey White stepped between the fighters to end his punishment.

Despite the prestige of a title fight, Lopes didn’t rake in big bucks. His share of the gate and TV money came to $9,920 while Brown received $15,840, according to stats from Boxrec.com.

A clip of the 11th round action is available on YouTube, and a good press fight photo from that fight can be found for sale on eBay.

Lopes continued his pro boxing career, which began in 1949, until 1963. His record, according to Boxrec.com, was 56 wins, with 22 knockouts, 26 losses, and six draws.

Lopes remained in West Sacramento, where his extended family, from the Cape Verde islands, had put down roots before World War I. He helped train Sacramento contender  Pete Ranzany and worked in his corner when Ranzany fought for the world welterweight title in 1978 against title holder Jose “Pipino” Cuevas.  Ranzany was knocked out in the second round before a crowd of 17,000 people at Hughes Stadium.

Active in the community, Lopes served as president and vice president of the West Sacramento Sanitary District, was a member of the West Sacramento Optimist Club and helped organize the local Babe Ruth Baseball League. He died in 1997 at age 66.

As a symbol of life’s full circle, the park, parallel to Sycamore Avenue, from West Capitol Avenue south to Evergreen Avenue, is very close to the neighborhood where Lopes was raised as a boy in the Great Depression.




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Huge culvert crossing under bike trail should help salmon stranded during floods

This  culvert under construction will connect a seasonal wetland site with the Natomas East Main Drainage Canal.

This culvert under construction will connect a seasonal wetland site with the Natomas East Main Drainage Canal.

The Natomas East Main Drainage Canal runs close to the bike trail at this point.

The Natomas East Main Drainage Canal runs close to the bike trail at this point.


Despite being a pessimistic observer of the salmon and steelhead decline in Northern California, I find my spirits lifted by a protection project going on close to home. Let’s call it a tiny light at the end of a tunnel or, more specifically, an impressively large culvert snaking under a bit of the bike trail along the lower American River.

While bicycling last weekend, I came across this project about two miles out of Discovery Park, where the bike trail swings under the Northgate Boulevard bridge and past the Natomas East Main Drainage Canal. The bike trail splits here to go around a small seasonal wetland created in the late 1990s.

A detour sign informed me I had come upon a Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency project called the “Site 18A Culvert Replacement and Fish Passage Enhancement Project.” I was amazed to see big swath of dug-up ground and a whale-sized metal pipe sloping down from a grassy field to the drainage canal.

What the heck was going on? I wondered. An invading army could pass through this pipe being installed in a rather bucolic setting a few miles from downtown. What fish needed such a passageway? Where would they be coming from and where would they be going?

With my curiosity aroused, I waded into Internet research and uncovered a fascinating tale of Sacramento’s transformation from a free-flowing water wonderland into a locked-up flood-control system that allowed the urban development we have today. This culvert project is a small example of the complexity and cost of maintaining fish and wildlife in such an environment.

The project got its start back in 1996, according to a lengthy SAFCA study  done last year. That’s when the agency excavated 230,000 cubic yards of earthen fill material for a levee-improvement project. The excavated site near Northgate Boulevard and Del Paso Boulevard was then graded and planted to support a 17-acre riparian and seasonal wetland habitat.

In 1999, the basin-shaped site as well as the low-lying bike path were flooded by heavy rain and overflow from the drainage canal and American River backup channels. As the water receded, fish biologists saw an opportunity to determine whether any fish were stranded in the basin.

Lo and behold, the research team captured more than 3,000 juvenile Chinook salmon, mostly fall-run but also including 262 that were positively identified as imperiled winter-run and spring-run Chinook salmon. From mark-recapture sampling, an estimated 50,000 juvenile Chinook salmon entered the basin and were temporarily stranded during this event. The relatively small 30-inch culvert connecting the basin to the drainage canal did not provide much of an escape route or protection from predators.

Where the young salmon came from is not specified. The Natomas East Main Drainage Canal, which empties into the Sacramento River, was originally a natural overflow channel for the American River and tributaries such as Dry Creek and Arcade Creek. Once upon a time, this  network of creeks and streams provided extensive spawning ground for salmon and steelhead. A major levee and land reclamation project before World War I transformed the channel into a drainage canal to spur growth in North Sacramento. Stray salmon are still known to enter this system and spawn, most notably in Dry Creek.

The SAFCA project will replace the former 170-foot-long narrow culvert with one that is shorter in length but about 10 feet wide and 7 feet high. The basin ground is to be reshaped to enhance the flow of receding floodwater into the enlarged culvert. It is hoped juvenile salmon and steelhead will respond by swimming down into the culvert, under the restored bike trail, into the drainage canal and finally out to the Sacramento River.

The 2015 study estimated the overall price tag at $813,000. A $672,602 excavation contract was awarded last February to Glissman Excavating Inc. Construction began in late April and is expected to conclude by the end of the year.

The loss of juvenile fish in drainage networks, irrigation canals and bypasses in the Sacramento Valley is a significant factor in the sad decline of salmon and steelhead. It’s encouraging to see a local agency finally taking steps to rectify part of the problem. Perhaps the drainage canal will one day live up to the name some local optimists have bestowed upon it: Steelhead Creek.


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Better to develop a new skill than curse the darkness

“When is the last time you improved at anything?”

That question hit home when I read it in a recent New York Times article on aging. Writer Gerald Marzorati clarified that he was talking about improving at a demanding skill or set of skills — a craft, a discipline.

“I have in mind something that will take years to get proficient at, something that there is a correct way of doing, handed down for generations or even ages, and for which there is no way for you to create shortcuts with your cleverness or charm,” Marzorati said. “Playing the cello, maybe. Or cabinetry. Or, in my case, tennis, serious tennis.”

Although Marzorati mentions studies that find physical benefits from taking up such a disciplined pursuit, he says these are of secondary importance. The primary gain is this: “You seize time and you make it yours. You counter the narrative of diminishment and loss with one of progress and bettering. …

“It is not your life, but one of the lives that make up your life, and the only one for which looking ahead, at least for a little while longer, is something done without wistfulness or a flinch.”

For me, racquetball serves this function. It’s a fast-moving, complicated game in which tactical thinking and court awareness can offset sheer physical skills. Old, slow-moving players have a chance against power-hitting younger ones.

I took up racquetball when it became wildly popular in mid-1980s. It reminded me of the one-wall handball of my youth and four-wall handball and squash I played recreationally in college. I was a decent player but with none of the skill level I had in basketball. When the craze faded, I went on to other things.

I returned to racquetball in 2008, slowly and tentatively, when I grew tired of the walking, bike riding and swimming activities recommended for people with hip replacements. I was pleased that the quick lateral movements of racquetball didn’t cause a problem. Before too long, I was giving basketball a try after a five-year layoff.

I’ve continued to play both basketball and racquetball. My skills at basketball far exceed those of racquetball. At my usual hangout, the Capital Athletic Club in Sacramento, I’m probably in the top third of the over-40 basketball crowd and can keep my self-respect with the younger guys. But I am on a downward path and running out of compensatory measures. The satisfaction level is diminishing.

The majority of club racquetball players are over 40. Most look like guys who have been playing regularly for the past 20 years. Their skill levels far exceed mine. I’m in the bottom tier of regular players. Humility is my constant companion.

Happily, that doesn’t bother me, as it surely would in basketball, because I don’t bring to racquetball intense needs, constant self-criticism and high expectations. I play the game for the fun of it and delight in my improving skills. I have added a decent ceiling shot to my repertoire and acquired a better sense of where the ball will be going. I lack a good kill shot and regularly miss what would be put-away shots for better players.

But here’s the upside of racquetball: I don’t berate myself for missing these shots, as I would for a blown layup, because I have no expectation of making such shots. The few I make excite me, like finding a $100 bill. Where did that come from? I wonder. Instead of comparing myself to the past, I look to the future and see a bit of light in the darkness.

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From O.J. Simpson to Stanford sex-assault case, two wrongs don’t produce a right

Assuming O.J. Simpson was guilty of double murder, as most of white America thinks, was it rough justice for a largely black jury to acquit him because the Los Angeles cops had a sorry record of brutalizing blacks, most memorably the vicious beating of Rodney King a few years earlier?

Was Simpson’s defense team justified in heavily playing the race card because of America’s long history of racial injustice?

I ask these questions partly because I’m watching ESPN’s fascinating documentary “O.J.: Made in America.” I haven’t seen the final installments of the five-part documentary, but one thematic line is clear: the stain of two murders and years of police brutality can be cleansed with an acquittal.

The other reason for my questions is that I’m intrigued by a Sacramento Bee columnist’s contention that a white Stanford athlete convicted of sexual assault was properly given a slap on the wrist by a white, Stanford-educated judge because the California prison system is one of “medieval brutalization.”

“Privileged or poor, weak or strong, regardless of race, creed or color, it’s the rule, not the exception, for young men to come away from a stint in jail or prison broken and traumatized,” says writer Shawn Hubler.

Hubler’s argument, then, is that the wrong of a sexual assault on campus is offset by the wrongs of our prison system, so therefore it’s right to go easy on this criminal.

Hmm, where does this logic take us? Should no one be imprisoned until all prison abuse is ended? Should young murderers be spared a prison term because they might become broken and traumatized men? Should rapists be free to walk in the community of law-abiding citizens as proof of our commitment to a fair society?

We live in an imperfect world where we often must choose between the lesser of two evils. We’re not alchemists who can produce good from evil while turning a blind eye to the rights of  innocent victims and our own self-protection.

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Where was God during Orlando massacre?

Like so many people, I have no explanation for the massacre of 49 people at an Orlando gay nightclub other than that the world can be a rotten place sometimes. I wish those using the tragedy to promote their own political, social or religious agendas would have the decency to shut up out of respect for the dead. Instead, we have Donald Trump and his ilk eager to use the blood of the victims to promote their bigotry and venom.

In Sacramento, we see the unfortunate spectacle of a two-bit pastor using religion to disguise his inhumanity by suggesting that those gunned down at the nightclub got what they deserved. Pastor Roger Jimenez of Verity Baptist Church praised the killing of “Sodomites” while pointing out biblical verses he said justified such action.

In a Sunday sermon, Jimenez, according to the Bee, said the massacre helped society. “I think Orlando, Florida, is a little safer tonight. The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. I’m kind of upset he didn’t finish the job.”

I have no idea what the appropriate response should be to such garbage, but it’s certainly not the half-baked pieties and religious ignorance promoted by Bee columnist Marcos Breton today. He challenges Jimenez’s credentials as a man of God because Jimenez doesn’t appear to be an officially ordained minister and because he doesn’t understand that God is love.

“Who is Jimenez to call himself a pastor and promote a version of Christianity where God puts ‘death sentences’ on people?” Breton asks. “Verity does not appear to be affiliated with any order of the Baptist faith. That means Jimenez can say whatever he wishes without any accountability to a larger religious community.”

Hey, isn’t that what Jesus did? Didn’t he go around without official credentials, imply he was infused with godliness and speak what was in his heart? Hasn’t religion for centuries been divided between Establishment churches and mystics, visionaries and Pentecostals inspired by a direct pipeline to God and the Bible?

The views of loners don’t always line up with the theology promoted by Establishment types, such as the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Breton quotes him as saying, “What took place in Orlando is not the will of God. As Christians, we love everyone. We repudiate intolerance and hatred.”

Well, that’s not Jimenez’s view, nor is it the position of Christian televangelist Pat Robertson, who Tuesday appeared to relish a bloodbath between believers in Islam and gay rights.

“We’re looking at a favored group by the left, the homosexuals, and that in Islam is punishable by death or imprisonment or some sanction, so what are the left going to do?” Robertson asked on the 700 Club. “I think for those of us who disagree with some of their policies, the best thing to do is to sit on the sidelines and let them kill themselves.”

Meanwhile, Breton and his sources might want to recall the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah. In that tale, the two ancient cities were destroyed by fire and brimstone because God viewed the residents’ sexual practices as an abomination. That God was not one to preach love and tolerance for the homosexual community.

A lot of religious believers around the world buy into that God, and we need to face that nasty fact.












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