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AMATEUR SPORTS: A legend hangs up the gloves

Boxing has sent Grand Forks legend Richard "Diddy" Quesnell from Mazatlan to Hawaii to Florida to Thailand. Along the way, he met some of the biggest names and greatest boxers in the sport's history.

Boxing has sent Grand Forks legend Richard "Diddy" Quesnell from Mazatlan to Hawaii to Florida to Thailand. Along the way, he met some of the biggest names and greatest boxers in the sport's history.

Once he even took on the boxer known as "The Greatest."

In Louisville, Ky., in 1992, Quesnell was a scale master for the Muhammad Ali International tournament.

"Ali and I jokingly sparred one time," Quesnell said. "One afternoon, I'm standing by the ring, Ali came by and made a remark to me like 'that Dakota farmer.' So I looked at him and said 'fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee, too bad Ali, you're not as cute as me.' He turned around and put (his fists) up and so did I."

Quesnell, who started the club Boxing Inc., in Grand Forks and was inducted into the U.S. amateur boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, has retired from the sport after nearly 70 years.


"I'm 81, going on 82," Quesnell said. "Don't you think it's about time I retire?"

Diddy's legacy

Quesnell's roots run deep in Grand Forks, and his commitment to youth boxing in the area left a lasting impression on many. Great boxers such as Virgil Hill, Harold Miller, Mark Strickland and Jason Aaker have passed through his gym.

"(Quesnell) was a great promoter in the area," former North Dakota lightweight champion Miller said. "He took us on a lot of trips when we were kids. We went to Hawaii, California, Florida."

It wasn't just about the boxing, though. For at least three hours in a day, the kids were in a safe place.

"Diddy's major goal was to keep the kids away from drugs," said Brad Triske, who fought for Quesnell as a youngster and trained with him as an adult. "When all this drug stuff came in the '70s, he wanted to keep them out of that no matter what.

"He tried to teach about the bad deals of life. There was more to it than boxing. When the kids would run into problems, they'd call Diddy. He was always there for them."

Hill, North Dakota's most famous boxer, was helped by the training of Quesnell and Triske.


"Virgil Hill wouldn't have ever been where he is today without Diddy," Triske said. "He wouldn't have achieved his goals. It all goes back to who you know and Diddy knew how to place people in boxing."

His achievements weren't just local. They were national and international, as well. Since 1976, he's been in charge of weighing in boxers for the Olympic Games. He's worked with Sugar Ray Leonard, Larry Holmes, Ken Norton and had dinner with Don King.

Quesnell has lived the boxing enthusiast's dream.

The beginnings

His first experience in boxing came unintentionally.

Quesnell came to the Grand Forks YMCA as a 12 year old. Back then, it cost $1 a year for membership. Quesnell didn't have that kind of money, and he wanted to be on the boxing team at the YMCA, so he scrubbed and painted the pool in exchange for membership dues.

"I didn't know how to dribble a basketball, and I wasn't much of a swimmer, so I boxed," Quesnell said as he dug for his wallet. He pulled out a faded YMCA membership card and asked what it said along the bottom.

"Member since: 2/27/1938" the card read.


"And I've been a continuous member ever since."

With the membership, Quesnell joined the Y boxing team.

"I could hit and, the sad part is, I could get hit," he said.

Quesnell tried other sports. He graduated from Grand Forks Central in 1944, playing two years of football and basketball.

After two years serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Quisnell returned to Grand Forks in 1946 and started coaching youth boxing.

In 1960, he started Boxing Inc.

"We started in the security building downtown," Quesnell said. "That burned down during the flood. Since then, we've been at the Y."

"In the '70s, boxing was a dying sport," Triske said. "Diddy kept it alive and not just for Grand Forks, but the entire state of North Dakota."


Triske added that Quesnell remains a powerful name in amateur boxing.

A big event

Quesnell has filled out fight cards and organized and raised funds for many events. One of the events, however, sticks out above the rest.

It was the National Junior Olympic Boxing Championships in June 1992 at the Grand Forks Chester Fritz Auditorium.

"We had a crowd of 1,000," Quesnell said. "We had boxers from all 50 states. Tom Clifford helped put it on, and we couldn't have done it without him. There were lots of world champions who came out of there.

"On the championship night, we had all the boxers up on stage with smoke pots. It was our own small Las Vegas."

Promoting events was one of Quesnell's specialties.

"He could sell ice to an eskimo," Triske said.


The Junior Olympic event might have been the peak of boxing in Grand Forks.

Quesnell can recall when Williston, Dickinson, Mandan, Bismarck, Minot, Jamestown, Valley City, Wahpeton, Fargo, Grand Forks, Langdon and Devils Lake all had boxing teams. Today, just Minot and Grand Forks remain, he said.

The sport has been overshadowed by events such as the Ultimate Fighting Championships, a brawling style of mixed martial arts that has been sweeping the country.

Quesnell admits that had something to do with his retirement.

"At the pro show in Fargo, I saw that MMA (mixed martial arts)," Quesnell said. "Someone is gonna get killed. People only go there for one reason: to see someone get killed. You used to see that type of fighting behind every bar in town.

"Boxing can (recover), and boxing will, as long as they keep boxing from being an alley fight."

Reach Miller at 780-1121, (800) 477-6572 ext. 121 or tmiller@gfherald.com .

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