As the downtown reinvents itself with a mix of restaurants, lounges and shops, a unique addition is gaining momentum on the edge of the inner city.
There, people are working to re-establish Haverhill as a power in the sport of boxing.
The Haverhill Downtown Boxing Club on Locust Street is gaining members and entering them into regional tournaments.
Trainers and organizers at the relatively new club said they have some of the best boxing talent in the region. They believe that with hard work and commitment, the club’s fighters and staff can help Haverhill build a reputation as a boxing incubator.
“We have the talent in experienced winning boxers and trainers and kids who want to do this,” said trainer Ray Hebert.
The club’s young boxers have to figure out how to mix school, work and boxing into a schedule that allows them to grow as fighters and well-rounded people.
Isaiah Colon, 16, of Haverhill is typical of the promising members the club has drawn.
Several weeks ago, the club entered Colon in a fight in Billerica. He lost all three rounds, but does have much promise, said Hebert, who is also a partner at the club.
Colon and other boxers at the club follow a strict and physically demanding routine. With each training session, a boxer loosens up, then does three rounds of shadow boxing — throwing combinations of punches into the air instead of hitting a bag or sparring with another boxer.
Everything is done in three-round cycles. After they shadow box, boxers go three rounds on the heavy punching bag. This exercise helps the boxer work on his punching power as he hits a solid surface.
The trainers work with the boxers to show them how to stand and position themselves. They learn to work on technique, a way they feel comfortable.
“They think punching is everything when they first start out,’’ Hebert said. “Punching is the easy part.’’
Weight is an issue Hebert pointed out as a training problem.
“These guys stop training, then come back to it and wonder why they’re not doing good,’’ he said. “It’s because they’ve gained weight. They’re out of shape.’’
Boxers can get out of shape both physically and mentally. Colon is an example of that. He was spreading himself too thin early in his training, Hebert said.
“We had to talk with Isaiah and eventually his parents,” Hebert said.
Colon goes to school every morning, then is off to work in the afternoon until 7:30 p.m.
“He wants to come here and train and there’s not enough time,” Hebert said. “He was wearing himself out, even at that age.’’
Colon made the choice to reduce his work schedule to commit more time to training, Hebert said, after he and Colon talked about how he wanted to resolve his situation.
“He won a few matches early on and did alright,” Hebert said. “But when he came to us, he hadn’t trained much and we had to work with him.’’
Hebert said he is looking forward to developing the talent of Colon and other young club members to put Haverhill back on the boxing map.
“When I came up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Haverhill competed and we won awards,” he said.
He held a framed picture of a young Haverhill fighter in the mid-1960s landing a powerful jab on the jaw of his opponent.
“That’s how we got there,” Hebert said, “We committed ourselves to the sport.’’
Lawrence has three clubs, Hebert said, and they enter good fighters into matches. Hebert thinks Haverhill can build a few good contenders of its own, and he has several new boxers in training that he wants to enter into the Golden Gloves in January.
Boxing in the mill towns has always been a way to bring the local kids in off the streets.
“They have their schools, the Y, the Boys Club and after that not much else,” Hebert said, “so we want to offer a place for anyone to train. If they want to fight, they can come to if they want to commit to the training.’’
ABOUT THE ORGANIZATION
Named the Haverhill Downtown Boxing Club
Located on Locust Street on the fringe of downtown
Philosophy: Get young people off the streets to train and become well rounded