Late boxer to be inducted into UW Athletic Hall of Fame

Doug Moe remembers (and apologizes to) Dick Bartman
Bartman (1)
Dick Bartman when he boxed for the Badgers in 1956. (Photo courtesy of UW Athletics)

Dick Bartman had just finished jogging and was due on the golf course in about an hour when I reached him by phone in Bradenton, Florida, in February 2003.

What followed was an insightful, occasionally deeply felt and always good-humored conversation about Bartman’s one year as an intercollegiate varsity boxer for the University of Wisconsin Badgers.

Bartman’s season – it was 1956 – included an individual NCAA title at 139 pounds and was good enough for him to be one of the 11-member 2020 class of inductees into the University of Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame. A virtual induction ceremony for the class, which includes former men’s basketball coach Bo Ryan, is planned for mid to late October.

Bartman’s induction gives me the chance to offer a public apology to the classy gentleman and boxer who gave me a terrific interview for my 2004 college boxing book, “Lords of the Ring.”

Dick, who died in 2013, at 77, never asked for it – that wasn’t his style.

But his last name is spelled wrong in “Lords of the Ring.” I have it as “Bartmann.”  Why I will never know. A brain lock. I felt terrible – and stupid – later.

Maybe it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but other journalists and writers will get it. I am always bemused when people accuse reporters of being loose with facts or even willfully sloppy. My experience across more than four decades is the opposite. Not every reporter, of course, but most take the goal of accuracy extremely seriously.

One of the best writers I have known personally, the late W.C. Heinz – he coauthored the novel “MASH,” and, with Vince Lombardi, “Run to Daylight!” – once sent me a copy of his newest book with a note saying it contained three typographical errors. He’d corrected them by hand with a pen on the printed pages.

On that day in 2003 when we spoke, Bartman told me he began boxing at 12. He grew up in a tough, inner city Milwaukee neighborhood. A grade school pal was Orville Pitts, himself destined for glory as a UW boxer.

The neighborhood? When Bartman was 10, playing marbles outside with friends, he caught part of a shotgun blast in the head. “Some guy in the neighborhood was having a fight with his wife,” he recalled. “So he shoots off the shotgun. Probably to scare her, I don’t know. But the shot goes out the window and hits me. I go to the hospital and they tell me an inch either way and I would be dead. But you know, everybody wasn’t lawsuit crazy back then and not a whole lot came of it. The guy apologized.”

Bartman was a talented young boxer, good enough to win two statewide Golden Gloves titles and catch the eyes of UW boxing coach John Walsh and his assistant, Vern Woodward. A visit to Madison was arranged.

“Alan Ameche was the guy who showed me around campus,” Bartman recalled, referring to the Heisman Trophy winner from Kenosha.

Speaking to me nearly half a century later, there was excitement in Bartman’s voice as he evoked his boxing days as a Badger, when 14,000 fans would pack the UW Fieldhouse. “You’d come out of the locker room and the crowd is roaring and you follow a drum majorette down the aisle and, I mean, it was a great thrill. You’d be embarrassed to lose,” he said.

The NCAA tournament was in Madison in April 1956. In the bout for the championship at 139 pounds, Bartman defeated Idaho State’s Dan Axtman, who was later inducted into that school’s athletic hall of fame. The Badgers’ won the 1956 team title, too, their last of eight.

Bartman left Madison after a year to box professionally in New York, a pursuit shortened by a broken nose. He returned to Wisconsin and had a successful business career.

What I didn’t realize, until reading Andy Baggot’s June story on Bartman in uwbadgers.com, was that Dick stayed active in boxing throughout his life, serving as a referee and helping with a program that promoted scholarships for inner city kids involved with boxing.

UW athletic director Barry Alvarez calls all the Hall of Fame inductees personally to give them the good news.

At a recent UW athletic board meeting, Alvarez shared the story of what happened when he called Carla MacLeod, a former UW women’s hockey player and 2020 inductee.

MacLeod thought the call was a prank and hung up.

Alvarez spoke with women’s hockey coach Mark Johnson, who tracked down MacLeod and said she might want to call Barry Alvarez. They laughed about it when she did.

I have no doubt Dick Bartman would have been overjoyed to get that call. His son, Richard Jr., told Baggot that his dad “dedicated his life to boxing in the state of Wisconsin.”

I’ve done my small part after 16 years and now spelled his name correctly.

Doug Moe is a Madison writer. Read his monthly column, Person of Interest, in Madison Magazine.