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Remembering Ali

DEER LAKE, PA. - Kings came to the mountain bearing gifts.

Celebrities and adoring fans, too. To be sure, they remember the Greatest of All Time.

It has been four years since the passing of Muhammad Ali, the most famous professional boxer of all time. However, his spirit lives on here where he trained for his most famous fights - from Joe Frazier to George Foreman.

Up on Sclups Hill, Ali had a dream of turning this once barren site into a training camp where the secluded hills of Northeastern Pennsylvania afforded the champ the ideal setting for a warrior as mighty as Ali so he could test his God given skills and manhood in preparing for some of his most brutal fights.

Ali’s longtime business manager and dearest friend Gene Kilroy opened the doors for Ali to have his dream and vision come to fruition. The rest was up to Ali to put together.

“All big corporations have their boardrooms, Muhammad Ali’s boardroom was the logs that he sat upon when he met the many dignitaries that visited,” is the way Kilroy spoke of his late friend describing this hallowed grounds, not too far from Schuylkill County’s government seat in Pottsville. For it was Kilroy who knew the way since his roots were a stones throw from this mountain.

“That was his throne,” Kilroy pointed out. “He felt comfortable sitting on those logs. He would collect his thoughts, and greet people from all walks of life right after he did his early morning run.”

Kilroy was telling Mike Madden, who invested over a million dollars restoring the camp, that he needed to put the logs where they originally were located. It took some prodding, but the logs were finally put there during the ongoing restoration of Fighter’s Heaven. Madden, who is the son of former NFL Hall of Famer John Madden, took ownership of the 5.5 acres back in July of 2016.

Kilroy remembers those days like they were yesterday, recalling how Ali started training here during his prime in late 1971 and continuing until late September of 1980 when he trained here for the last time prior to a fight against The Easton Assassin, Larry Holmes. Ironically, Holmes trained here as well as a sparring partner of Ali’s.

“This is just like the Sistine Chapel of Michelangelo in Rome” Kilroy pointed out. “The camp to Ali is his Michelangelo. He designed it, he put everything where he wanted it.”

And they came and came, said Kilroy.

“People came from all over the world visited,” Kilroy said. “The Sheikh came in from Saudi Arabia, he flew his private airplane into Philadelphia. When he arrived he was amazed. He brought his family to see the creation of this great place that Ali created.”

Kilroy was the main reason that the camp was brought to this rural sector, a few miles away from where Anthracite coal was mined during the forging of America in the early 1900s. And Kilroy is grateful for this iconic place to be brought back to life.

“I can’t say enough about Mike Madden, and I know Muhammad Ali would be pleased with the work that continues to keep his legacy alive,” Kilroy explained. “(Back in the day) the camp was one of the most visited places - just as much as the Liberty Bell and the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia were visited.”

Today Kilroy feels that presence of his dear friend who passed away four years ago today on June 3, 2016.

“All praises of thanks should go to Mike Madden,” Kilroy said about the California real estate developer’s dream which continues to emerge. “Everybody brags about walking the grounds, visiting the gym where Muhammad Ali trained, visiting the restored cabins where the sparring partners trained, and the famous cabin where Ali lived.”

Kilroy, who was there from the beginning to the end of Ali’s time at Deer Lake, recalled the huge number of sportscasters, sports writers, and television personalities that interviewed Ali.

“This truly is one of the great places of our time,” he marveled during one of his many return visits in recent years.

Thanks in large part to Kilroy, it’s a place where Muhammad Ali roamed the hills and trained for nearly 10 years of his life.

One of the cabins at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake, the training site for boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Today marks the fourth anniversary of Ali's death. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO