June 15, 2018
By: Tom Meikrantz
I was always curious about what the Muhammed Ali Deer Lake training camp looked like. I saw pictures and video and the days spent there leading up to the Larry Holmes fight in 1980 were captured in a documentary on how the two fighters prepared for their showdown. Ali chose the secluded site after his longtime business partner Gene Kilroy recommended it back in 1971. Kilroy is a Schuylkill County native from Mahanoy City. Ali spent much of the 1970’s training here and welcomed visitors, sometimes youngsters and sometimes the rich and famous like Frank Sinatra. Since Ali retired, the six-acre camp was used for other purposes and the historical aspects left forgotten.
Enter Mike Madden, son of NFL’s John Madden, who bought the camp two years ago and was ready to unveil what he did to preserve the Ali legacy June 1st to coincide with the two-year anniversary of Ali’s death June 3rd. I finally got the chance to satisfy that curiosity that day when local media were invited to tour the site. The gym looks like it did 40 years ago but now is a museum with pictures of Ali in the gym and touchscreen videos of his fights. When I first walked in, it felt like going back in time. I wish I could’ve went into a time machine and put there during it’s heyday. I went inside Ali’s sleeping quarters, a simple log cabin, and got an eerie feeling seeing a picture of Ali on the same bed that still inhabits the room.
Madden got much of the memorabilia from Kilroy, who immediately offered his services to make this project work and was on hand that day to offer first-hand accounts of what it was like to experience those Deer Lake days when Ali was one of the most famous persons on earth. I was no stranger to Kilroy who was close to my father-in-law and the Walson family. Service Electric Cable founder John Walson Sr. jumped at the chance to provide cable service at the camp at Kilroy’s request. Mahanoy City is the birthplace of cable.
It’s not ready quite yet to open up to the public but thanks to Madden and Kilroy and camp manager Sam Matta, a special place in boxing lore called Fighter’s Heaven has been preserved for all to enjoy soon.