Feature flashback – A boxing gym in limbo

This article appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun.

Headline: FIGHTING FOR A HOME

July 24, 2004

By Ed Odeven

In one corner of a boxing gym, youngsters are jumping rope with the finely timed rhythm of a drum machine. In another, they are taking turns hitting speed bags with methodical precision, throwing punches from all angles. And in a well-worn ring, two teens are sparring, working on their hooks and jabs, footwork and positioning while a few talkative on-lookers are discussing their every move, dissecting every rat-a-tat-tat fistic sequence.

These scenes are repeated day after day at hundreds of gyms across the country.

And, remember, that’s a good thing. Boxing, the old-timers, baby-boomers and Generation Xers alike will tell you, keeps kids off the streets and out of trouble.

Here in Flagstaff, meanwhile, it’s a cool summer evening and a half-dozen boxers from the Flagstaff Impact Center are working out at Coconino High School. Outside. At Cromer Stadium. Near the end zone.

The end zone?

Yes. These boxers are honing their skills in this unusual setting, making the best of their new, difficult situation: a boxing club without a home.

“A lot of them were like, ‘Oh, man.’ A lot of them were real upset, like, ‘What are we going to do?’ ” said FIC member Angel Baca, recalling the reaction of many of the club’s young fighters when they heard the news. “So Ray (Alday, the club’s coach) was like, ‘Let’s keep working out at Coconino.’ So a lot of them have been going.

“But I’m sure it does frustrate people.”

For the past three weeks, the FIC has been conducting evening practices at CHS, where the track is open to the public after 6 p.m.

But this is a temporary solution for the FIC, the city’s only boxing club. When the weather gets cooler and when the days get shorter, the club won’t necessarily have the option of working out at CHS for one or two hours in the evenings.

“It’s very hard to work out without all the equipment — the speed bags and the heavy bags, the ring,” said Shandall Yazzie, a Coco sophomore-to-be.

Alday, who took over as the FIC coach after club founder Daniel Hudson moved to the Valley last fall, said the club, established in September 2002, had trouble paying rent at its Sunnyside neighborhood gym, located at 2307 E. Spruce Avenue. Initially, the club was paying $1,000 a month for rent at the converted garage. It was reduced to $800 in the past couple months, but the club was still having trouble coming up with the money.

Kids are charged $15 a month for membership, while adults are asked to shell out $25 for club fees. But membership fees alone, from around 30 members of which 20 or more were students — usually more during the school year — didn’t cover the cost of the club’s rent, especially since students didn’t always have the money.

In recent months, the Flagstaff Impact Center was having more and more car washes and fund-raisers and raffles, and, from time to time, putting on exhibition fight nights — all in the hope of securing more donations.

Alday, who recently started a new job as a locksmith, estimated that he was paying at least $400 on his own each month “just to keep it going.”

“We had money, but the landowners just didn’t like getting the payments (late),” he added.

Said Baca: “When Daniel was here, he was spending a whole lot of money out of his pocket. The rest of us don’t have that kind of money. He was pretty much paying the rent and buying equipment.”

Alday and a Northern Arizona University student were writing a proposal to get a grant or financial backing from business and civic groups and government organizations, but the student graduated and left town. So Alday plans to begin writing a new proposal. In addition, the club is scouring the “for rent” advertisements and scouting various spots around town as prospective locales for a new gym.

“We’re looking for something we can afford, basically, and what people want to afford,” Alday said.

“Most of these kids are coming from the Sunnyside neighborhood and they don’t have much money, and they really can’t pay too much.”

Still sweating after a good workout, Anthony Garcia, a carpenter by day, praises the combination of mental and physical discipline that boxing has given him.

“Boxing is good. It’s something we do. It keeps us in shape. … It’s different, too,” said Garcia, a former Arizona amateur state champion at 165 pounds.

Garcia runs five miles every morning. That’s the key, he said, to being ready to rumble.

“You need your wind,” Garcia said. “It’s speed from head to toe. It’s all about speed, agility, thinking, positioning. It’s like chess. It’s intelligent and requires speed, and then it hurts. And then how do you deal with it?”

Garcia said he hopes to continue competing, someday earning some money to invest back into the club. He said the club’s promising young fighters deserve the older members’ support.

“We still want to fight, no matter where we’re fighting,” he added.

For Baca, another standout on the state’s amateur scene in recent years, getting back in the ring is something he’s eager to do. He placed first in the 152-pound weight division of the Copper Gloves state tourney last November and advanced to regionals, but he hasn’t had any official fights since December. Overall, he’s 7-1 since taking up the sport two years ago.

Now, Baca feel like he’s stuck in limbo as the discussion of the club’s uncertain future comes up.

“It put the hurts on me pretty bad,” the 24-year-old said. “I don’t know whether to even continue or what’s going on. It’s been a hard town to box in. And then Daniel came in and opened up the gym. I’ve always wanted to box all my life. I got my chance and did much better than I ever expected, and then now we don’t got a gym again.”

A gym, the fighters agree, is necessary to further develop the skills of the club’s young fighters.

“There are a lot of really young kids that are real good,” Baca said. “If we can just get them back in competition, they can make a name for themselves and do well.”

A permanent club facility will likely increase the club’s membership (about 50 people were going to the club last fall before Hudson departed) as well as giving students a chance to get assistance with their homework.

“During the school year, after I’d do my homework or if I needed help with my homework, then I’d go to the boxing program because they’d have tutors in there,” Yazzie said. “And they’d help me with it over there, and then after my homework, I’d box and work out.”

Yazzie, who describes her passion for boxing in very basic terms (“I like getting into the ring and fighting the next girl”), was usually joined at the old gym by her best friend, Dina Sam, also 15. Other students have similar stories: they’d go and their friends would follow.

Nine years ago, in the same Sunnyside neighborhood, Alday got his start at Main Street Boxing Gym. That gym is also a thing of the past.

As for the future, Alday isn’t asking for too much.

“All we need is somewhere to put the ring and for the bags. That’s the main thing,” said Alday, who mentioned that most of the club’s equipment is now stored in various places around town.

The sunset is leaving a picturesque vista on the horizon, and as one watches the recent evening workout at CHS, you witness a group of dedicated, we-mean-business boxers doing all they can to maximize their workouts, to make the most of their limited means.

They run wind sprint after wind sprint on the track.

They jog up and down the Cromer Stadium bleachers.

They do push-ups and sit-ups and jump rope on the grass.

There are no heavy bags or speed bags with the word “Everlast” tattooed on them here in the great outdoors. But there’s a bag on the ground that contains gloves and hand wraps. Most of the bag’s contents are being used.

“A lot of cardio (cardiovascular exercises), out here, that’s mostly what we do,” Alday said. “We don’t spar too much.”

Instead, you’ll see volunteer coach Donrique Lopez, a seasoned boxing trainer who used to work in Oscar De La Hoya’s camp in Los Angeles, standing on the asphalt and holding up a pair of red focus mitts. He’s a busy man all night.

“We’re all here to use the pads,” Alday said, while glancing at 19-year-old Myron James, an NAU student, as he throws punches in Lopez’s direction. “One, two, three, four … (we’ll work on) all the different styles.”

The workouts, of course, would be so much better, so much more productive, in a gym.

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