Several years ago, Sylacauga’s Boys Club Board of Directors made a far-reaching decision that had a impact on several lives. It rightfully honored a man, Harold Brooks, who had been the Boys Club Director since the 1970’s, by putting his name on the front of the existing Boys Club building. However, in recognizing Brooks and his many contributions, the board eliminated the man’s name who founded the Club many years ago. Without the efforts of William G. “Bill” Irby from the late 1940’s until his death in 1971, it is very doubtful that Sylacauga would have a Boys Club.
Irby came to Sylacauga in the 1940’s to work at the Powder Plant in Childersburg. He eventually was employed by Avondale Mills as Public Relations Director and Editor of the Avondale Sun and was later a company Vice President. He brought with him an illustrious career in athletics, especially in the boxing arena. He also had a desire to mentor boys and young men. As a boxer, he earned a scholarship to Tulane University and eventually had over 100 fights, including 30 as a professional. Along the way he was a sparring partner for Heavyweight Champion James J. Braddock who predicted that Bill Irby himself would one day be the World Champion.
Upon coming to Sylacauga, Irby began organizing a boxing team. He quickly saw the need for a venue to teach not only boxing, but to have a place where Sylacauga youngsters could play and compete as well as learn life lessons under qualified supervision. He investigated both the YMCA and Boys Clubs and chose to organize the Sylacauga Boys Club. He brought in a gentleman by the name of Jay J. Thomas as the first Director of the Club and with the help of many local businessmen raised funds to support the program. When the Club almost had to close its doors in the 1950’s he contributed personal funds and led the way in raising money to keep it going. His fund-raising efforts took on many faces. Primarily, he promoted amateur boxing and professional wrestling for many years from which all proceeds went to the Boys Club.
His championship boxing teams and his founding of the Boys Club were accomplishments enough to warrant the preservation of his name here in Sylacauga forever, but Bill Irby was much more than that. He was active in too many civic activities to name; was a Boy Scout leader; a leader in his church; a member of the Sylacauga Board of Education; an active supporter of the old Cotton States Tennis Tournament; President of the Industrial Editors of America; and that list could literally go on and on. He brought fame nation-wide to Sylacauga in many ways; and even now, 47 years after his death, he once again was an ambassador for Sylacauga when he was inducted into the Alabama Boxing Hall of Fame a few weeks ago.
In the 1960’s, Irby, along with others, spearheaded the fund raising to build the “new” Boy Club at its current location. The first phase of the building had recently been completed when he and his wife were killed in an automobile accident in November of 1971. In June of 1972, a Memorial Boxing Event was held at Legion Stadium to honor Irby, and the Board of Directors and other supporters elected to change the name from the Sylacauga Boys Club to the W.G. “Bill” Irby Boys Club.
When the current Club Board chose to honor Harold Brooks, the decent thing to have done – in fact the right thing – would have been to have included names of both of the most important men in the Club’s history. It was ethically and morally wrong to remove Bill Irby’s name. The logical name for the club is either the Irby-Brooks or Brooks-Irby Boys Club. That would preserve both names, and everyone should be happy. It is never too late to right a wrong or to correct an oversight, and as spokesman for a large group of current and former Sylacauga citizens and the Irby family, I challenge the Boys Club Board to do the right thing.
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