Despite its grandiose moniker, the actual hall is housed in a surprisingly inconspicuous brown building, perhaps mirroring the small-town feel of the village that it’s nestled within. The International Boxing Hall of Fame was founded to honor a hometown hero, Carmen Basilio, a boxing champion in the 1950s.
Basilio held titles in both the welterweight and middleweight classes, and despite his death in 2012, the boxer lives on in the hearts and minds of Canastota residents.
Sports are often a means of bringing communities together. For example, 62% of children who play sports report participating in athletic activities in order to spend more time with friends. The same could be said of Basilio and the village of Canastota.
“Carmen’s heart and soul was Canastota,” said Edward Brophy, the executive director of the Hall of Fame to The New York Times. “When he walked into a local diner, whether world champion or later, that was your hero that walked into the diner. He meant a lot, and he continues to mean a lot.”
Given his local prestige and adoration, one can imagine the sadness and outrage of the town’s residents, following a recent theft. On November 5, local police say that an unnamed thief broke into the Hall of Fame through a window and stole six champion belts — four of which belonged to Basilio.
The remaining belts belonged to Tony Zale, a friend of Carmen’s who was a two-time world middleweight champion. Thad Zale, Tony’s nephew, called the robbery “an affront to all boxing and to Canastota.”
The investigation as well underway, as citizens of Canastota are pushing authorities to relocate the stolen memorabilia.
“Of all the crimes I’ve ever investigated, this is the one that people have asked me to work the hardest on,” said James Zophy, Canastota’s police chief.
The chief surmises that the robbery was likely the work of an outsider, someone who specifically steals sports memorabilia.
“Basically they stole from the fans,” said Chief Zophy. “They’re historical items that you can’t replicate.”