hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

December 20, 2012

No place to train

Boxing club loses its home, looks for new one

Bruce Amaro

---- — They fight outside, sometimes in the dark while aided by the overhead lights at the Haverhill High School running track.

As the sun sets and the temperature drops, they jump rope, jog around the track, do calisthenics and hit punching bags held by their trainers.

The 40 remaining members of the Haverhill Boxing Club, now training as the Haverhill Inner City Boxing organization, train under those conditions because they do not have a home due to a lack of money.

For three years, the Haverhill Boxing Club was located at the old St. Michael Church on High Street, but financial problems forced the club to move out last month.

Under the guidance of Joe Ferguson, Norman Fraza Sr., Joe Calnan and other trainers, the young boxers, have been training at the Haverhill High track. They have also used free space at a Lawrence gym, the second floor above a restaurant in Monument Square, and even the basements of trainers’ homes.

The club is looking for someone in the community to make an affordable property available where a gym can be set up.

“We had to close our doors as the Haverhill Boxing Club at 75 High St. because of a lack of funds,’’ said Dr. Sam Amari Jr., secretary of the club’s board of directors. “Joe (Ferguson) and his group will continue the good work into the future, and we’ll see what happens.”

Boxing club officials said they paid $750 a month for rent at the old church, plus the cost of heat. Some months, the total bill reached close to $1,500, they said. For the 18 years prior to being at the church, the club was located in an old industrial building on Stevens Street, where it paid a total of $500 a month for rent and heat.

Amari said the club needs a way to generate enough regular revenue to pay for the basics. If the club can find enough interest in Haverhill to fund boxing, the trainers and coaches can do the rest, he said.

“We have several silver and golden glove contenders in Haverhill, and we have no place in their home town to train them,’’ Ferguson said. “We were going over to Lawrence for a while, and to Lowell, but we need a place in Haverhill to make this work.’’

As an example of the talent in Haverhill, in matches this month when the boxers had no indoor training facility, Isaiah Colon won his bout over a Fall River fighter to advance to the next round in the Silver Gloves in the 15-year-old and 152 -pound division. Jadiel Gonzalez, 13, won his fight against a Quincy fighter to advance to the next round in the Silver Gloves in the 90-pound division.

The club’s board of directors exists as an entity, but the club’s coaches, members and boxers have reorganized under the new name Haverhill Inner City Boxing as they seek a new home.

“We need a place for a gym, somewhere that we can afford. It has to be inexpensive, but we need that first,” Ferguson said. “These kids have been practicing outside at the high school, but somewhere they can call home, that’s what we need first.’’.

The club had 265 members until it had to leave the old church on High Street.

“We took the kids off the street and gave them a place to go and meet, where they could let off their energy, learn how to fit into society and how to follow rules and regulations,” Ferguson said.

Norman Fraza Jr. and his father, Norman Sr., coached at the club while it was on High Street. The younger Fraza explained what the club expected from its members.

“A kid made trouble at school, thought he was a tough guy, and we heard about it,’’ he said of a club member. “So I suspended him from the club from a month.

“Two weeks into it, he came to me, tears running down his face,’’ Fraza said. “He had nowhere to go, nowhere that made him feel good about himself. I let him back in and he learned. We aren’t training bullies here. We don’t want that.’’

For personal reasons, Fraza has been less active in the club recently, but his father still works with Ferguson and the other coaches.

“I got out a few times in the past few weeks and took the kids to a couple of bouts,’’ said the elder Fraza, 81, a trainer and ex-boxer. “I want to try to do what I can.’’

Going back to the 1970s, boxing took Haverhill kids off the streets and gave them a productive place to go. In his best-selling memoir “Townie,’’ Andre Dubus III wrote about training at a club downtown, a gym that lasted until its money ran out.

“For the past two years, we have applied to and been turned down by the city Community Development Block Grant, administered through the Haverhill Community Development Department,” Amari said of efforts to get federal money for the boxing club.

The club, under its new name, has held two tag days to raise money.

“We had over 200 members, but without a place to call home and train, we’ve dropped to about 40 people,’’ Ferguson said. “The place we had on High Street was great. It was right in the neighborhood close to where a lot of the members lived. It got those kids off the street, and gave them a place to go to, somewhere they could do something they enjoyed and stay out of trouble.’’