A comfortable breeze wafted through the pavilion at Meadowbrook Park in Arlington on a recent Saturday, while an occasional cream puff 1960s- or ’70s-model car cruised by and dozens of old friends reminisced and laughed.
It was the late Tommy Von Hatten’s Knockout Celebration, exactly the kind of day that would have pleased the former Golden Gloves boxing sensation turned pro, who died last month at age 65 after a heart attack.
Former classmates from the Sam Houston High School Class of 1968 wore the same kind of Tom Landry-style fedora that Von Hatten preferred, and sportswriters and boxing buddies spoke of his potent punch inside the ring and friendly personality everywhere else.
“He’d say, ‘You can’t go through life afraid you’ll lose,’ ” recalled Kenny Hand, who covered Von Hatten’s early days for the Citizen-Journal. Hand went on to have a high-profile sportswriting career with the Dallas Times-Herald and Houston Post.
“I asked Tommy once, wasn’t he afraid he’d get beaten in the ring and be humiliated in front of his friends?” Hand said. “He said, ‘The girls will still love you, Kenny, if you just get back up.’ ”
Von Hatten was short, about 5-foot-7, but that didn’t diminish his power.
“Being small I guess made me tougher on the inside, but I never thought about being small when I was out there doing it,” Von Hatten said in a 2011 Star-Telegram story about the 75th anniversary of Golden Gloves.
Boxing contemporaries Nick Wells, Gene Hatcher and Sam Hatton spoke during the celebration about what their friend was like on the circuit.
“He was happy-go-lucky,” said Hatton. “He was a man that didn’t make enemies.”
“Tommy was a scrapper, a pretty good little fighter,” said Wells, of Burleson, a 20-year boxing pro and 32-year Fort Worth firefighter who was on Texas Golden Gloves teams with Von Hatten. “Everyone seemed to like Tommy; I didn’t know anyone who didn’t like him.”
During the mid-’60s when Von Hatten and his friends were starting their boxing careers, the Golden Gloves amateur boxing program was at its peak of popularity. Almost every high school had at least one boxer in the program, and some had several.
Now the program has fallen on hard times and decreasing popularity, so the Von Hatten celebration was also a benefit for Golden Gloves.
Von Hatten turned pro in 1971, and his theme song became Three Dog Night’s Joy to the World. It wasn’t very tough, Hand pointed out, especially the part about “joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea, and joy to you and me.”
Von Hatten won two Golden Gloves state championships and five regional titles before he turned pro. He fought as a welterweight and retired from the ring in 1975. His final won-loss record as a pro was 18-9.
He worked in real estate and other businesses after that and kept close to Arlington.
Shyrel McMahill, a classmate, recalled for the crowd how she met Von Hatten as she surfaced in the Meadowbrook Park swimming pool one sunny day between seventh and eighth grade.
“I came up out of the water and he was standing there,” she said. “He said, ‘Hi, I’m Tommy.’ He was all tanned and muscle-y, and I was flattered that he had paid attention to me.”
Even back then, Von Hatten had unusual poise and self-confidence, she said. They grew to be lifelong friends.
“We had some deep conversations, especially during our last several meetings,” she said.
Many recalled how Von Hatten always tried to help people, an early habit that extended throughout his life. He lived at his childhood home on Broadmoor Avenue in east Arlington in his later years, and reached out to the street people who passed by his house each day on their way to Meadowbrook Park.
“He always gave water to the homeless and would even let some of them take a shower at his house,” recalled his cousin Maria Barreda-Alvarado, an organizer of the celebration.
An upcoming exhibit at the Fielder Museum curated by the Arlington Historical Society will cover Von Hatten’s career as well as those of other Arlington Golden Gloves standouts, local historian Geraldine Mills announced.
Von Hatten’s relatives took comfort in the special celebration of his life.
“I think he’s watching,” said sister Mary Lou Von Hatten-Barker. “I know he’d have a huge grin on that craggy face.”
Von Hatten has two sons, Tim and Michael Von Hatten, and a daughter, Tammy Von Hatten.
Tim Von Hatten, the elder son at age 38, took a moment to survey the crowd of people who had come to honor his father as a good fighter and better friend.
“I’ve never wanted to be more like him than I do right now,” he said.