On September 1st of 2019 writers Ken Hissner & Dave Ruff drove several hours to the former Muhammad Ali training camp at Deer Lake, PA. It was almost three years since Hissner’s last visit when it was a “Bed & Breakfast” place, pretty run down.
Mike Madden (son of Oakland coach John Madden) bought the property for half a million and had it renovated in what he called “Fighter’s Heaven”. Mick Stefanek and Joe Bascio were gracious enough to give us a tour being they are part of the Ali Team there.
“When I first saw Deer Lake I was 18 years old. I went up there with Ronnie Branch, Joe Tiberi, and the late Mark Henderson. The camp was a working camp then; many fighters trained there. It was a thrill for a young kid. Now seeing it today, it did bring back memories! I thought Mike Madden did a great job restoring the camp. He brought it back from the days of old, with several video talks about the camp. I didn’t know Ali lived so primitively up there. I learned at the camp that Ali admired the great ex-champion Jack Johnson. I thought the guys were very good giving the tour. It’s an experience for anybody to see. I thank Ken and the people for helping me out,” said Dave Ruff.
Ruff said all of that very well. There is Ali’s Aunt Coretta’s kitchen that is used more or less like a work room. Ali’s original cabin he left due to the residue from the log cabins harming his breathing and went up the hill to another cabin. The huge rocks with fighters like Kid Gavilan, Rocky Marciano, Archie Moore, Floyd Patterson, Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey still are there whose names were painted by Ali’s father who was a professional painter.
Per the two that take care of the camp and Mike living there at this time they will stay open until the end of October. Once the winter sets in and snow arrives it would be hard for people to come off Route 61 and up Sculps Hill where the red flags have “Fighter’s Heaven” printed on them. There’s now three churches at the foot of the camp. Ali’s Mosque is still in the camp.
There is no charge to tour but an asking donation of $20 for each “Fighter’s Heaven” tee shirts and $5 for a small book on Ali. It’s well worth the visit!