I first met Charles “Chuck” Senft in 1989, at the Brookline Recreational Center. I’d always had an interest in boxing, and Chuck ran the Brookline Boxing Club, better known as “Charlie’s Angels.”
Chuck’s years of coaching in Brookline convinced me that the athletes’ well-being was a priority, and that his gym was the place to be in the Pittsburgh amateur boxing scene. But Chuck wasn’t involved only in boxing. He also loved football, and had played at the North Side’s Allegheny High School. Even that’s only a small part of his story, though.
Through his work in Pittsburgh’s Citiparks department beginning in 1955, Chuck became an important part of his community by coaching and working with area youth, especially those who were troubled; there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for a child. Chuck Senft died on July 26, 2016, at the age of 83. And though he’s been gone a year, his loss to the community is still felt, and his memory and legacy deserve to be celebrated not only because of what he accomplished, but because of the type of man he was.
As a young man, Chuck dropped out of school to help support his mother, Martha, and siblings. In 1952, he married Rozella. At the age of 19, Chuck joined the army and served until 1955. Upon returning home, Chuck sought a job with Citiparks. Chuck was a perfect fit for the department because of both his athletic and coaching abilities. Seeing his talent for coaching and working with youth, Chuck’s superiors assigned him in 1958 to Brookline’s rough-and-tumble Moore Park. Chuck struggled daily for his own physical survival as well as to maintain discipline and control at Moore Park.
“It was the first time that I encountered the growing drug, drinking and social problems that were developing in the South Hills and at our centers,” Chuck said in an interview published on brooklineconnection.com, a website dedicated to preserving the community’s history. “This was a real challenge.”
Chuck once told me of rescuing a young child who was encircled by five older youths. How much of an impact did that gesture have on the boy? He would send Chuck a Father’s Day card every year until Chuck’s death in remembrance of this act of fatherly deliverance.
There were days when Chuck would routinely disarm street toughs of their weapons and go home tired, bruised and sore. Regardless of what the day was like, however, you could be sure of one thing; Chuck always showed up the next day just as committed to coaching and caring for our young people as he had been the day before. Chuck wasn’t the only dedicated Senft, however. Without the support and patience of Rozella and their daughter, Terry, he never would have been successful. Their home was besieged by countless calls from people with questions about center activities, especially boxing. I have to admit, I was one of these frequent callers.
Maybe it was because of his time in the service as an army physical-fitness instructor, but Chuck always wanted people to act as a single unit, a single team. He applied that philosophy to the community centers he ran and the teams he coached. There were three fundamental elements to Chuck’s success as a leader and coach. He treated everybody the same; he let his athletes, especially his boxers, know that he was looking out for their safety and well being; and, finally, no cliques were tolerated. Chuck believed that all of his athletes would work and accomplish everything as a team.
Although Chuck is gone and he is missed, his legacy continues to live on in the community, especially through those whom he coached and mentored.
One of those people is boxer Robert “Muscles” Healy. Because of Chuck’s influence, Healy operates his own boxing gym in South Park, where he utilizes Chuck’s coaching techniques and philosophy. Healy says Chuck helped him at a critical time in his life. Healy’s parents divorced when he was very young, and he found refuge at the Brookline Recreation Center. Healy says he looked at Chuck Senft as a true father figure and never wanted to disappoint the man.
Former Pittsburgh City Councilor and state Rep. Michael Diven says, “Chuck gave Brookline an identity as a community.” Jack Conway, who runs the Bronson House boxing gym in Washington, Pa., wasn’t actually a member of the Brookline Boxing Club, but Chuck allowed him to train at the rec center. “Chuck could have kicked me out of the gym at any time.”
When we lost Chuck Senft a year ago, we didn’t just lose a dedicated public servant; we lost a part of our community’s heart. Chuck could have easily spent his decades as a public employee doing just enough to get by, marking his time until retirement. But he didn’t do that. He didn’t do anything close to that. Here’s hoping that more public servants follow in Chuck’s footsteps. Although those are some mighty big shoes to fill.