We boys from Cleveland Cottage lined up to march to the campus gymnasium. It was the start of boxing season and word was sent down from the main office that everyone had to attend. Within the hour, all twelve cottages from The Florida School for Boys Reform School at Marianna were seated in the large building.
I sat there watching as Doctor Wexler, and the nurse, Mrs. Womack, set up the first aid station.
About twenty minutes later, it was announced they were ready to begin. Several names were announced over the loud speaker. Two boys would get up from their seats and walk to the boxing ring. The coaches would tell them some of the basic rules, and then they would tie on their boxing gloves. The boys entered the ring and waited for the sound of the bell.
"DONG," went the bell.
The two boys ran directly at each other and began to slug it out as hard as they could. Arms were flying in every direction. Within several seconds, the fight was over.
The two boys, out of breath, hugged, then climbed through the ropes, and took their seat in the stands.
"Roger Kiser and Dwane Atchinson," said the loud speaker. (Can't remember his real name)
My eyes got very big when I heard my name announced. "I ain't gonna do no boxing. I didn't sign up for no boxing," I said, as I looked over at Mr. SeaLander, our cottage supervisor.
Mr. SeaLander looked at me and pointed to the boxing ring.
I got up from my seat and walked toward the ring. Hundreds of boys were screaming and yelling at the top of their voices. I was scared and starting to feel sick at my stomach. I knew at any minute I would throw up. "Please, dear God. Please, don't let me get sick in front of everybody." I prayed to myself.
As I reached the ring the coach told me, "there will be no kicking, shoving or pushing."
I stood there in a daze as he tied on my boxing gloves. The next thing I knew I was in the ring and the bell had rang.
Dwane came running at me as fast as he could. I watched in slow motion as his glove hit my face with full force, knocking me to the mat.
"Are you ok?" asked the referee.
In a daze, I looked around the large room. I saw hundreds of boys laughing at me. Slowly I got to my feet and I turned toward Dwane. He too was laughing. I charged at him and I began to hit him as hard as I could. I must have hit him twenty or thirty times before he fell to the mat. I stood there watching, as he lay there motionless.
"My God, Boy! I ain't never seen no one hit like that. You must have hit him twenty times for every time that he hit you," said the coach.
Still in a daze I looked up at the crowd and I could see them screaming and yelling. However, I could not hear them. Everything was very silent.
Every week for the next ten weeks, I had to take on another opponent. Every week I somehow continued to win.
I was scared and felt sick every minute of every day, even when I was not in the boxing ring. I lived every minute in a state of total fear. I was so scared I could not keep my food down.
On the championship night, I heard I was going to have to fight a boy named "Wayne Smith." That almost pushed me over the edge. Wayne Smith was much larger than I was. He was tall and he was mean. In the dining hall one day, I saw him beat another boy with one of the metal trays we ate our meals on. He never even blinked an eye.
I went into Mr. SeaLander's Office several hours before the fight. I told him I did not feel good and thought I should go to the hospital and be checked. He told me to go to my bunk and try to rest.
I lay on my bed listing to the speaker mounted on the wall in our dormitory. Marty Robbins was singing the song, "El Paso." I could feel the tears running down my face. I constantly watched the doorway to make sure that none of the other boys would see me crying.
"Roger, time to get ready," said Mr. SeaLander, as he shook me.
I stood in my corner watching and waiting for Wayne Smith to enter the ring.
"Look at him. Look at him directly in the eye," yelled the coach.
Slowly, I raised my head, and stared directly at Wayne. He looked at me for a second, and then turned away. As I waited for him to enter the ring, my legs began to shake. My chest began to flutter and I was about to get sick at my stomach. Once again, Wayne looked over at me. I was still staring directly at him.
"Slap your gloves together. Show him the ‘the killer instinct’ you have,” screamed the coach.
"Why would you say that about me?" I asked the coach.
As I stood before Judge Gooding several months earlier, the matron from the orphanage had said those exact same words about me.
"This boy has ‘the killer instinct.’ He poured ink into the aquarium at his school and killed all the gold fish," she told the judge.
The matron knew it was not true. I stood before the judge with my head down and said nothing to defend myself. I had already learned that what I had to say meant nothing to anyone.
I slapped my gloves together several times and then dropped my hands to my sides. Wayne began to argue with the coach in his corner. I watched as the coach began to untie his gloves. When the first glove was removed, it was thrown into the ring. The three hundred boys in the gym began to clap and scream.
"The 1958 Florida School for Boys Golden Gloves champion is Roger Dean Kiser from Cleveland Cottage," sounded the voice from the loud speakers.
I fell to my knees, placing my gloves on each side of my face. Then I fell forward onto the mat crying. By no means were they tears of joy. I was crying because I was glad it was finally over. I was tired of feeling sick and being scared. I did not move from that position until the entire gym had been cleared and become silent.
"Come on, Champ. Here's your trophy," said Mr. SeaLander, as he grabbed hold of my arm to lift me off the mat.
Slowly, I got to my feet and I looked around the large arena. I reached down and began to untie the strings on my gloves using my teeth.
"I am very proud of you," said Mr. SeaLander. He placed his hand on my shoulder.
I jerked my shoulder to one side causing his hand to fall.
I was driven back to the cottage in Mr. SeaLander's 1951 MG TD Roadster. A small, two-seater, green English sports car which no boy had ever had the privilege of riding in before. As we drove in the darkness, the light from the streetlights would hit the golden trophy as we passed by each, and every light post. Each time the trophy would flicker, all I could think about was the statement, "you have the killer instinct."
As we drove along, I took the trophy and slipped it behind the seat of the MG sports car. I never saw it again after that. I wanted no part of anything that would make people think that I had, "the killer instinct."
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