The law of the ring
BRIDGEPORT — When Stamford Superior Court Judge Gary White sits on a case, it can take months from start to decision and sentencing, sometimes longer.
But for a dozen or so weekends a year, when he indulges his busman’s holiday avocation at amateur boxing matches all over the state, the former public defender turned no-nonsense judge’s decisions come almost as fast as the punches thrown by the fighters he is scoring.
On a recent Saturday night, the referee at Bridgeport’s Cardinal Shehan Center gym reached over the top rope after each round. White, seated ringside, would hand over his scorecard — a 10 to the winner of the frame, and a nine, eight or seven to his less effective adversary. At the end of each three-round bout the numbers were added up, from White’s slips as well as those from four other judges, and a winner declared.
“It is a shame that one fighter wins and one has to lose, because both of them show a lot of skill,” White said, sitting in a folding chair separated by a small table from a ring where punches could clearly be heard as they landed. “It is mano a mano, one guy displaying his skill, courage and employing strategy against another. I see all that in boxing and I applaud people who get into the ring because it takes a lot of guts.”
White, 65, has been judging boxing showcases as a volunteer for years. As a Jimi Hendrix-loving kid growing up in a religious home in Stamford, with a Harvard education directly ahead, White’s devotion to the Sweet Science was anything but a given. But coming up watching Cassius Clay morph into Muhammad Ali and other fighters like Joe Frazier got him hooked.
“It is stimulating to me because I am a student of boxing,” he said between rounds.
Years ago, ring judges counted blows. Not anymore, he explained. Now they watch for “effective blows” — those made with the weight of the boxer’s shoulder and body behind them. The difference is evident in the sound when they land.
“Pitty-pat punches don’t mean anything,” White said dismissively.
The bouts, which are a proving ground for Olympic hopefuls and professional boxers, are officiated by USA Boxing and involve kids as young as 10. The recent Bridgeport show, as the events are called, was hosted by Bridgeport’s Ortiz Boxing Gym.
The matches aren’t fights in the common sense. “The idea is not to knock the other fighter unconscious. The idea is to hit without being hit,” said White, adding that “effective aggression” is rewarded by points.
Skills learned behind the bench, which have allowed White to make some pretty complex and imaginative dispositions in a black robe, have served him well at ringside. Around the courthouse he is known as a down to earth jurist with tremendous knowledge of the law, who doesn’t blanch when it comes to dealing with those who don’t follow his directions or keep their word.
“I have to be objective, follow rules and don’t make decisions based on emotions,” he said. “If for some reason I have a liking for one fighter more than another, that can’t make any difference on how I score the fight.”
Chordal Booker, 27, now a professional boxer, appeared before White in the Stamford courthouse as a much younger man on drugs and weapons charges. He said White scared him about as much anyone he has faced in the ring and gave him the break he needed to rebuild his life. Their professional relationship, which later turned personal, is outlined in a 2016 documentary about Booker called “The Boxer.”
In attendance at the Bridgeport show, Booker said he appreciated White’s efforts supporting the sport.
“It shows what type of guy he is. I’m sure everybody here doesn’t know he is an actual judge. He still cares about the community,” Booker said. “He’s here. He’s doing something really positive. They don’t get paid for this. This is something they donate their time to.”
Chief of officials for the Bridgeport show, USA Boxing’s Lou Pontacoloni, said he did not know White was a real judge when he got started.
“I just knew him as a guy who liked boxing and wanted to be one of our officials,” Pontacoloni said. White, just like any other boxing judge, went through the training and took the tests to judge the matches, he said.
And he is good at it. “I have nothing but good things to say about Gary,” Pontacoloni said. “You look at the scores of the officials (judges) and that is how you tell they are good. He (White) gives the right score.”
Deputy Chief of Officials Jason Concepcion said he also appreciated White being there.
“He classes up the place, to be honest. He really does,” Concepcion said. “Gary wants the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth as a court judge. But we call the ring the squared circle of truth, because if you aren’t doing what you are supposed to, if you aren’t eating right or your aren’t exercising, that will show up when you take a body shot and the truth will come out every time.”
There’s a clarity to that truth that appeals to White, similar to the simple, clear reasons why he stays involved in boxing.
“I enjoy watching the fights,” he said. “I like the people who are involved.”