By Terence Clarey
Tucked away behind the Edgerly School at 11 Otis Ave. a large banner welcomes visitors to the “Somerville Boxing Club” an organization that celebrates its one year anniversary at this location later this month. The club teaches kids to box but has a more important mission.“We want to keep kids on the straight and narrow and want to get kids off the streets,” said Bruce Desmond, Somerville Alderman-at -Large and one of the eight members of the Board of Directors of the Somerville Boxing Club.
Normally the gym, with two sparring rings, speed bag, heavy bags and a wide array of exercise equipment, would be buzzing with activity, but on this particular Friday afternoon the gym is largely empty, but for five volunteers and two young boxing trainees.
This is because a team from the club was traveling to a tournament in Ohio and, later this month, a team will travel to the Rocky Marciano tournament in Brockton, MA. For the five volunteers it’s not just tournament success that drives them.
“We are trying to accomplish a couple of things,” said Desmond. “We want kids to come in and be able to box, the ones that want to, but we also want kids that don’t want to box that might want to work out to have a place to come after school.”
Dan Johnson, construction laborer and boxing club volunteer, exemplifies how the volunteers hope the club can benefit young people.
The original Somerville Boxing Club was started in 1978 and over the years it came and went in different locations around the city, including the historic Paper and Provisions Warehouse on Somerville Avenue. When it was not in operation Johnson said he found he really needed it.
“When the Somerville clubs were started, I was involved and then I got away from it,” he said, and as a result, “I was led astray for many years,” saying that he got on the wrong side of the law. As an adult he realized the club was very important to keeping him from getting into trouble.
“It gave me something to do. It filled a void.”
Now Johnson has a steady job and volunteers with the kids using his own experience to help them. He also benefits from the work.
“The (return of) club has been a God send for me” he says about turning his life around and being able to help kids not repeat his mistakes.
Also, in the office trading good-natured barbs with the others was Norman Stone, a trainer with 45 years of experience. If his name sounds familiar that’s because he was the trainer for John “The Quiet Man” Ruiz, two-time WBA heavyweight boxing champion.
In addition, Ed Fitzgerald, who has 50 years under his belt as a boxing referee and once officiated a local charity exhibition match between Muhammad Ali and local fighter Ronnie Drinkwater while Ali was under suspension for opposing his army draft notice in the early seventies, sat in.
City Youth Department worker Nancy Bacci, who manages the Somerville Boxing Club, and also sits on the Board with Desmond, wanted to emphasize the selfless efforts that many people have put forth to make the club a success.
“We have over 400 members (and we are) entirely a volunteer organization,” Bacci said.
Two of the types of kids the organizations hope to reach are Anthony Rego, 13, and Steven Detar, 12.
“One kid comes in here, with his head down,” observed Stone. “He wouldn’t talk to anybody, wouldn’t look at anybody. Now he’s here all the time helping out. He’s really come out of himself.” That kid was Rego.
“It gives me somewhere to go after school,” said Rego, who has won two fights and recently won a Junior Olympic fight at Dilboy Stadium on August 24.
“My friends told me about it. At first, I really didn’t know much about it. I never really watched it,” he added. Once he started doing it he became hooked.
His personality has also grown from his participation. “Now he’s more friendly with everyone. He helps out everyday,” said Stone.
Steven Detar, whose father was a light heavyweight boxer, says, “I just think it’s a great place. I just like to come down to work out,” he said.
In addition to boxing and workouts, Desmond said they offer academic tutoring and drug and alcohol counseling.
“A lot of people who have experience with drug and alcohol related problems have conquered these problems,” said Desmond of many of the volunteers. “A lot of good people come down here who make themselves available for pretty much any problem a kid might have. I’ve never been around a better group of people in my life.”
“We’re like a family” Stone added.
The Somerville Boxing Club is open 3-8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. -2 p.m. on Saturdays. There is no charge to box or work out for Somerville residents.