Creator of champions ... and the saviour of troubled kids
THE boxing community across Dewsbury, Batley and Spen was in mourning this week after the sudden passing of a man who not only created champions, but turned troubled boys into upstanding men.
Keith Tate brought boxing to the district in 1975, when local businessman Bob Edgar enticed him into starting the St Paulinus Amateur Boxing Club in the basement of the Catholic church in Westtown.
A gym above the old police garages by the town hall would be called home, as would portakabins on Vulcan Road and the former Dewsbury Moor WMC, before finally the club became the Cleckheaton Boxing Academy.
A talented boxer himself, Keith won multiple national amateur flyweight titles, including defeating future world lightweight champion Ken Buchanan, and he fought for England before turning professional first as a bantamweight then featherweight.
A promising career ended aged just 21, when after a heavy knockout the British Boxing Board of Control revoked his medical licence.
It was a decision that prematurely closed the door on one young boxer, but opened them for hundreds more.
Wherever the boxing club called home, Keith Tate’s word was law – as indeed it was at home, where children John, Mark, Julie and Keith Jr grew up alongside hundreds of often troubled children that Keith and his devoted wife Sally fostered over 32 years.
“Keith would take many of our foster kids along to the gym, not for them to box, but to show them a world of hard work and discipline,” said Sally. She’d never been a boxing fan but got fed up of sitting at home – so went along and got the bug too.
Mark, who boxed before taking up coaching alongside his dad, remembers being woken up by voices singing “we are the champions”. A young Dean Cortese had just won a national boys club title, their first.
“Dad’s one ambition as a coach was to have a boxer win every national title available,” Mark added. “That came true in 2005 at the Excel centre in London, when Gary Sykes won the senior ABA title.”
Dewsbury Moor’s Sykes would go on to become British super featherweight champion as a professional. Keith Tate boxers won 21 national titles, provided 17 national representatives and three world champions in James Hare, Mark Hobson and Steve Conway.
But every bit as important to Keith were the nervous or shy youngsters, by no means natural athletes. “Dad saw the best in everyone who walked through the door,” said Mark. “He believed there was potential in everyone if they were willing to work hard and learn.
“He could see things other coaches couldn’t. I remember one lad, I thought ‘you can’t put him in a ring’. But he did and that boy had just one solitary fight and he won it. And that meant as much to my dad as any national title.”
Keith Tate’s gyms always lived by two rules – number one, that Keith is always right, and number two, that in the rare case of Keith being wrong, number one applies.
As funny and inspiring, as boxing-smart and passionate as he was, Keith Tate was also argumentative and headstrong and it led to fall-outs with some of his proteges.
He never followed them into the professional ranks, because it would have barred him from working with the youngsters that so fulfilled him.
Gary Sykes’s pro trainer, Julian McGowan, said: “Keith and I went our separate ways after many years together and sadly were no longer on speaking terms.
“But the truth is, many of the fine coaches across many gyms in this area – Zahir Akbar, myself, Mally MacIver, Jack Sunderland, Steve Auty, Chris Ineson, Richard Atkinson – are all by-products of Keith Tate’s gym and his philosophy on boxing; his empire continues to grow, and his legacy will never die. Simply put – Keith Tate was a boxing man through and through, and in our own way, we will all miss him.”
Although he and Sally closed the club three years ago with Keith aged 71, he had continued to do bits of bag work with boxers.
He was diagnosed with dementia last year but loved his time with his 10 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
His son Keith Jr, said: “Dad was a hero to many young people, but he was everything to us, a dad, husband and granddad and a hero in every way.”
Mark added: “I think that in years to come, youngsters who never met or knew my dad will be taught by their own dads and coaches, ‘this is how Keith Tate taught me’. That will be his legacy.”
Keith was diagnosed with stomach cancer in December, and had been well in himself – playing with the grandchildren as usual – until taking a sudden turn last week. He passed away peacefully in hospital.
His funeral will be at Park Wood Crematorium in Elland on Tuesday, April 23 (9am) and afterwards at the Q Gardens venue in Odsal, Bradford.
Friends can contact the family on the email address firstname.lastname@example.org.