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‘The Lady is a Champ’ -- and hall of famer

Polis, first female professional boxing judge, earns special honors from home state

March 27, 2020
By CJ HADDAD (cjhaddad@breezenewspapers.com) , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

After nearly five decades of dedication to professional boxing, Carol Polis, the first female professional boxing judge in the world, has been called to stand among the greatest the sport has to offer and will be inducted into two halls of fame this year, a rightful and just honor as a trailblazer for women in the sport.

Polis, a Pennsylvania native and current Cape Coral resident, got the call to be forever enshrined in the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame and the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame earlier this year.

"I feel it's very humbling, that's a word that comes to mind quite a bit," Polis said of her induction. "I'm also in there with a lot of greats. To be considered one of them, even though I'm not in the ring, is amazing. It makes me feel like I'm walking on clouds."

Article Photos

FILE?PHOTO

Carol Polis, who now lives in Cape Coral, with some of her boxing memorabilia.

Russell Peltz, a friend of Polis over the years and American boxing promoter, was the one to phone the newest hall of famer and give her the good news.

"Are you sitting down?" he asked Polis. "You did it. You're in."

Polis couldn't believe it.

"I thought, 'Oh my God, my heart,'" Polis quipped. "I've been working towards this for 46 years so this means a lot to me."

Polis even joked about how her mother would find amusement in her reaching the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

"My mother would be laughing in heaven due to the fact that her whole life, she got two splitting headaches the same two days every year: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur," Polis said. "Splitting headaches - why? She didn't want to go to synagogue. So when she hears I'm getting a Jewish award, she will laugh."

In a world filled with testosterone, haymakers and fist-clenched warriors, Polis found herself ringside to some of the world's most epic boxing showdowns in the squared circle, not as a spectator, but as a judge.

She grew up in Jenkintown, a suburb just north of Philadelphia -- a city with roots deeply entrenched in boxing lore.

The oldest of three children, Polis was a spirited youth who enjoyed swimming, cheerleading and tennis, among other sports.

The first jab boxing gave Polis happened when she stopped to watch a title fight on television between Ken Buchanan and eventual personal favorite, Roberto Duran, in 1972.

Buchanan's kilt-style trunks caught Polis' eye -- and the sport hasn't lost her attention since.

The night Polis' future would take shape happened at the famous Philadelphia Spectrum.

Her ex-husband was working a card at the arena and told her to keep score herself on the back of a program.

At that time, Polis had only been to about four or five boxing events in her life.

Her then husband gave her a 10-second lesson on how to score and that's where her story began.

The brief lecture would result in the first scorecard of what would be many Polis would fill out over the course of her life.

At the end of the night, Polis' ex-husband told her he was going to turn in her make-shift scorecard to the commissioner to Polis' dismay.

The Philadelphia Athletic Commissioner at the time was former Harlem Globetrotter, Negro Leaguer and eventual third man in the ring for the infamous "Rumble in the Jungle" fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, Zack Clayton. He told her ex-husband that he liked her scores and to keep it up.

Clayton, who always called Polis "lady," sent her a boxing rulebook in the mail that was quite small in size but thick in content.

It took her a year and a half to get thorough it.

One fateful night, Clayton came up to Polis and her ex during the intermission before the main event and told her she would be the first female pro boxing judge in the country.

On Feb. 1, 1973, Polis was appointed a judge by the then-governor of Pennsylvania, Milton Shapp.

Polis, who is Jewish, knew Shapp was also of the same faith.

She whispered in his ear, "Local Jewish girl makes good," with a smile and a laugh.

Polis found out two years later, she was the first in the world.

"I'm not any more special than anybody else. I took the ball when I was taught in 10 seconds how to judge and I kept scoring," Polis said. "I'm a fighter."

The newly appointed judge took her seat ringside on a high stool, eye-level with the canvass, for the very first time on Feb. 19, 1973, in a heavyweight bout between Jimmy Young and Earnie Shavers, two former champions, throwing up the peace sign when her name was announced.

Shavers won by TKO in the third round at the Spectrum.

The part that intimidated her the most was when the boxers would get too close to the ropes, fearful that they might slip through, or over, and onto Polis.

She would watch how secure the turnbuckles were and how much give the ropes had before contests.

Her 10-second lesson years prior, developed into a tactical, educated approach to scoring a fight fairly and down the middle.

She even disqualified herself from a Roberto Duran fight because she didn't want to be in the situation of judging her favorite fighter.

Polis has seen it all and experienced it all during her one-of-a-kind career.

She's judged Larry Holmes in '81, Mike Tyson in '95 and was even a guest of Muhammad Ali at his training camp.

She has travelled the globe, having judged fights in Japan, South America, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Panama and more. Italy is her favorite place to travel.

When it was all said and done, she had officiated 27 title fights and even made a cameo appearance in "Rocky V."

"I think I was treated like one of the guys most of the time, and I think they respected me," Polis said. "I was very impartial."

Now, Polis is a new resident to Cape Coral and does speaking engagements, sharing her remarkable story.

The main message of her talks? Courage.

"With courage, anything is possible," Polis said. "Courage is a choice, not a gift, it's a choice."

She wrote a book, published in 2012, along with co-author Rich Herschlag, called "The Lady is a Champ" -- a play on one of her favorite songs, Frank Sinatra's "The Lady is a Tramp."

Polis, a cancer survivor, "loves to share her story," and enjoys dancing, karaoke and Italian restaurants.

She said her greatest accomplishment in life has been raising her grandson, Larry, from birth.

But is she done telling her story and done chasing dreams? Not a chance.

"I'd like to continue if I can do it," Polis said. "My friends say now, 'Well now you've got this honor, are you done?' Nope."

Polis said she would love to do a commercial based on her judging two products and maybe even see a documentary done about her life.

"I'd like to be the leading lady and have Alec Baldwin be the leading man," Polis joked.

Polis has been a dream chaser all of her life, checking each box along the way. While her drive is still there, she does take time to appreciate the newest honors bestowed on her.

"I'm humbled. I'm grateful. I'm more than excited," Polis said. "It means everything to me. My parents would be very proud.

"I've worked so hard since 1973 to be a lady and to do the right thing so I'd never have to paint my mirrors black. I'm finally being recognized for what I've done, along with a lot of greats. It gives me goose pimples to think about it."

Polis is to be inducted later this year when group gatherings are permitted once again.

To inquire about speaking engagements, you can contact Polis at 239-984-2120 or apricot4631@yahoo.com.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter:@haddd_cj

 
 
 

 

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