Edmund R. "Eddie" LaFond '27 (Football, Boxing, Baseball)
You can’t talk about Catholic University boxing without talking about Eddie LaFond. The Maine native developed the Cardinal boxing program into one of the finest in the nation. During his 23 years as head coach (1931-53), CUA never had a losing season.
If it wasn’t for a bad accident, he likely would never have enjoyed a 47-year career in Brookland as an athlete, teacher, coach and athletic director.
LaFond, a star fullback in high school, had accepted a football scholarship to Dartmouth when he stepped from a car and was hit by a motorcycle. His right leg sustained a compound fracture, and he was hospitalized for four months. According to a 2005 CUA Magazine article on a Cardinal boxing reunion, “Doctors said he would never play sports again.”
LaFond took the advice of his prep football coach and enrolled at CUA in 1923, where he boxed two years and played football and baseball. He was captain of the first Cardinal boxing team in 1925 under former Olympian Ted Mitchell. On Feb. 13, 1926 LaFond helped CUA defeat Washington and Lee, 4-3, at Brookland Gymnasium in the first intercollegiate boxing match in Washington, D.C. He was the team’s manager his senior year and later served as head freshman football coach and director of physical education and intramurals.
After a three-year stint as an assistant boxing coach, LaFond took over for Mitchell in 1931 and promptly guided the Cardinals to an undefeated season. He also developed the first two national champions in school history: David Bernstein (1938) and Frederick “Bingo” Stant (1939). His 1938 team shared the unofficial NCAA boxing national championship. (Team points were not officially awarded until 1948.) CUA, Virginia and West Virginia scored 10 points each at the championships in Charlottesville, Va.
Cardinal boxing matches were a tough ticket on campus. It was common for upwards of 4,000 people – dressed in formal attire – to come out to see “Eddie’s Boys.” Bouts consisted of three two-minute rounds and were contested in eight weight classes (seven originally). Matches lasted a little over an hour.
Franny Murray, CUA’s longtime equipment manager, recalled in March 2012 what the events were like during the two years he boxed for LaFond in the late 1940s.
“We fought at 8 o’clock and you couldn’t get in after 6,” Murray said. “The place was packed. Kids would bring their books and study before the fights. It was quite a big thing. I think it was the best sport we ever had here.”
Boxing was disbanded on campus in 1954 because, according to Murray, most of CUA’s opponents dropped it. The NCAA, with safety concerns growing, stopped sponsoring the sport seven years later.
Murray said LaFond was, first and foremost, interested in the health and welfare of his boxers.
“If you got knocked down, you had to let him know you were OK before you hit the floor,” he said. “He was taking care of his fighters; he didn’t want anybody to get hurt. He had some good fighters – they didn’t get knocked down too often, they made sure of it.”
Opponents also routinely socialized with one another and, in many cases, became lifelong friends.
“After the fights, we always went out together,” Murray said. “You got to know the guy, you know what I mean, in a small way. You didn’t want to make him mad either – he might beat the hell out of you next year,” he added with a laugh.
A Boxing Legend
LaFond, a top amateur and professional boxing referee, was a member of the U.S. Olympic and Pan American Boxing Commission and was elected president of the National Intercollegiate Boxing Coaches Association in 1940. He and Julie Menendez co-authored the 1959 book, Better Boxing: An Illustrated Guide.
LaFond, who died in 1982, also conducted numerous boxing clinics on behalf of the U.S. Armed Forces and State Department in Europe, Hawaii, Africa, Central and South America and Asia.
“He did everything in boxing,” Murray said. “I remember one year he went overseas to the Ivory Coast to prepare their team for the Olympics. He was gone for six to eight months getting them ready. He was a great, great coach.”
During LaFond’s tenure as athletic director (1941-70), the Cardinals made their first appearance in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament (1944). In 1958 he hired Tom Young, who led the Cards to their first conference championship (1964) and second NCAA appearance. A year later LaFond tapped Ronnie McManes to coach the club football team, the school’s first assembly on the gridiron in 15 years. LaFond hired Murray in 1947.
“That was his only black mark,” Murray quipped.