In 1946, 11-year-old LeRoy Allen followed his cousin Jimmy Sherrer into the vaunted boxing program at the Urban League gym on North 9th and West Vine Streets. Sherrer had started there a few years earlier, and under the tutelage of coach Baby Joe Gans, he won several Milwaukee Golden Gloves championships and, in the late '40s, became one of the top professional welterweights in the country.
Allen went on to become a three-time Golden Gloves champion himself and also a professional welterweight boxer – and might have even surpassed his famous relative but for three fatal flaws once ruefully pointed out by his coach.
"LeRoy’s a hell of a fighter," said Baby Joe Gans. "He has all the tools to become a world champion, but he won’t make it because he’s too nice, too popular and he likes the girls too much."
Though he hung up his gloves in 1959 after just seven pro fights (of which he won five, with one draw), LeRoy Allen Sr. was a seminal figure in local boxing over the next four decades as a ringside judge at fights (with his wife Shirley Westbrook) and even more so as a tireless keeper of the flame he picked up from the Urban League boxing coach who taught every boy who came to the gym lessons in life as well as how to put up his dukes.
"He was my second father, my trainer, my teacher," said Allen of Baby Joe Gans. "He opened my mind to the world around me and my role within it. He instilled within us honesty, respect for mankind and a determination to succeed in life. Boxing was not as much a sport to Joe as it was an avenue for grooming men.
"He helped make me a better man, and I’ll always love and respect him for that."
Today many are saying the same about LeRoy Allen, who died June 3 at age 82.
In the '80s, he established the Baby Joe Gans Foundation as "a way of saying thank you to Joe and honoring his humanitarianism." Through it, lots of Milwaukee inner city youngsters received college scholarships in honor of the foundation’s namesake, who died in 1959.
"Young people have to learn to abolish prejudices to get on in life and to keep an open mind," said Baby Joe Gans. "Otherwise it will be like an anchor weighing them down. I can speak from my own experiences. I remember when I couldn’t buy gasoline at a filling station because I was a Negro. I’ve had chairs thrown at me when I beat a white boy in the ring. I’ve seen what it can do to people. Prejudice is our greatest enemy, and I’ve always tried to teach my boys respect for each other regardless whether they were Negro or white."
In his 2006 autobiography called "Just a Little Country Boy," Allen wrote, "… By doing your very best at all you undertake, never giving up, keeping a smile in your heart and possessing a strong faith in God, you will always succeed in life’s adventure."
That philosophy made LeRoy Allen as beloved in Milwaukee (and then Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he and Shirley moved 18 years ago) as the coach who imparted it to him – and even won him at least partial absolution for the sin of being a diehard Dallas Cowboys fan.