A boxing essayist? A teacher? An inspiring man? ExCEL teacher Springs Toledo is all of the above.


Jordan Watts / Sagamore staff

Springs Toledo describes the 1938 fight where Henry Armstrong defeats Barney Ross in one of his essays on boxing: "A battered and bloodied world welterweight champion glowered at his corner men as the thirteenth round was about to begin. 'If you stop this fight,' he said, 'I'll never talk to you the rest of my life.'"

Jordan Watts, Staff Writer


Maya Morris / Sagamore staff
“Throw him a 1-1-2!” the boxing coach hollers to his boxer. The boxer lands his punch. The fight is on. ExCEL teacher Springs Toledo influences youth both inside the classroom and as a boxing author.


Springs Toledo is a hardworking member of the ExCEL Program, but there are many things about him that students don’t know. In addition to being a teacher at the high school, he is also a boxing historian, an essayist for multiple boxing magazines and an author. He has published two books, The Gods of War and In the Cheap Seats, and he is publishing his third book in a couple of months.

How do you balance your work between all the different things you do?

It’s a little bit tough. I live pretty far away so my days are 12 to 14 hours. If I have any time when I get home I’ll write, but weekends I’ll spend writing. I know boxing pretty well, ever since I was about 12 years old. First, I learned how to do it, and then I became interested in the history of the sport. Boxing is pretty famous for its history. There are a lot of famous, iconic names in the sport, so I read up on that. In my neighborhood, boxing was huge. It was the sport to follow, so it’s been a part of my life for a long time. Thankfully, when you work in the school system you have about three months off, so that leaves time for some writing and such.

How did you end up doing so many different things? Was there something that connected them?
Interestingly enough, the things that I do are all pretty interrelated. There’s a lot of compatibility because quite a few champions from the past actually worked with kids when they retired. Maybe not in a school system per say, but they did work with youth. In other words, they were giving back. Obviously I never became a champion, though I do claim to be the uncrowned Middleweight Champion of the World, which means I would be if I pursued that path, but that’s just a lot of braggadocio. listen It is related because boxing is a very individualized sport, but it’s also very much a character builder; it forces the participants to rely on themselves. There’s no team, there’s no equipment and there’s no timeout. You’re in the ring in your underwear, and you’re alone. It’s a very stressful situation, and there’s no escape. You’ve got ropes, you can’t jump out of the ring, so you have to see it through. It does build character, especially for disadvantaged kids, like I was. It almost, in a way, takes the place of a father’s role in the house, so it’s done an awful lot for me personally and a lot for people I know. It still has a lot of capability to do a lot, not just to young people. I used to work out at the YMCA, and these 60-year-old businessmen would come in and you could tell they wanted to feel like they were capable, and this was in the early ‘90s where there were a lot of muggings. They weren’t athletic, they were older fellows, a few women back then, less women than now, but they would come in and want to learn to box, just to feel like they could handle themselves when things got rough. So it does a lot for a lot of people. Most of the clients at the ring on Commonwealth Ave are co-eds and professional women, so the sport has really opened up.

Would you say there’s a similar community aspect between boxing and teaching?
I think, although boxing is an individualized sport, when it comes down to it, it’s almost like being a student. You have a team around you, your teachers, your peers, you have your parents, you have people around you. When you’re taking a test, you’re taking a test by yourself, but you have backup afterward, you have cornermen if you will, so there is that. High school is very stressful for a lot of people, it was for me, so it’s good to know that although you have to see it through by yourself, there are people behind you and people around you that you can lean on. listen A professional fighter needs to go three minutes in a round; it feels like 33 minutes, and that minute rest feels like salvation. It’s only a minute, but you sit down and get a drink of water. You have people taking out your mouth piece, they wipe the sweat away, maybe you’ve got a cut they can plug up. And the key is to relax during that minute because there’s more to go. A student has four years of high school, and for many students that’s a very tough four years for many reasons, but you’ve got to see it through. You take it in parts and you see it through. So you can relate it almost directly to boxing in a lot of ways. And boxing, by the way, is largely psychological. It’s not all physical. People think that the brutes do well, but barbarians don’t win in the ring. It’s the thinking fighters that win, the ones who use strategy and skill.

With a 12 to 14 hour work day, do you have any free time?
It’s very limited and for my 12 to 14 hour days, a lot of it is the commute. There are various traffic issues in the afternoon I can’t avoid, it’s an hour to get here in the morning anyway, so I don’t have a lot of free time. I’m trying to limit my sleep but I find that I need at least seven hours or else I don’t function very well. But on the weekends I get up at the same time, around 5 a.m. or 6 a.m., and make the day longer so I can get things done. The vacation is something to look forward to. If I have to submit something for Boxing News or for the The Ring or for thesweetscience.com I make sure that I time it around when I can find the time to complete it. I write in a painstaking manner; I don’t just bang things out, I craft them, they’re stories, they’re vignettes, there’s a ton of research that goes in. I take it very seriously, because that’s your name on there, and that’s out there forever. So when an editor asks me for something tomorrow I say, “you’ve got to give me at least four days.” The good thing is, I choose what I write. I don’t take assignments. I take suggestions, but I won’t take assignments. In that sense I’m the boss; I’ll write what I want to write about, the timeline is my own, and then I sell it to whoever, so it works out pretty well.