Ringside feats

Amateur boxers in Hagerstown are motivated more by discipline and fitness than trying to knock out their opponents

Amateur boxers in Hagerstown are motivated more by discipline and fitness than trying to knock out their opponents

August 08, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

At age 12, John Johnson got into boxing to stay out of trouble. The sport turned his life around - and amateur boxing continues to make a difference in the lives of Johnson and younger boxers under his experienced gloves at Hagerstown Boxing Club.

"It's my life," said Johnson, 58, president of the nonprofit club at 7 S. Potomac St. "I love it."

Johnson and other amateur boxing veterans said the sport improves strength, stamina and coordination, and breeds self-esteem, confidence and discipline.

Boxing "teaches the kids self-esteem, self-discipline and how to fail successfully and be good sports," said amateur boxing enthusiast Melanie "The Boxing Grandma" Ley of California.

Ley, who since 1987 has served in various capacities with USA Boxing, the nonprofit national governing body for Olympic-style boxing, said 1 percent or so of all amateur boxers might go on to become national champions, but a great many of the athletes will become more successful adults.


At his uncle's urging, Johnson said, he started training after school five days a week to steer clear of the gang wars that were erupting around him in North Philadelphia. His dedication and natural affinity for the sport landed him a spot on the U.S. Army's boxing team when he was 17. Johnson's three-year tour with the team took him around the world and got him noticed by an Olympic Games boxing recruiter.

A broken hand during a national competition - at which Muhammad Ali was a fellow competitor - nixed his shot at the Olympics, putting the 1960 Golden Gloves champion on the pro boxing path in the latter part of the decade, he said. Johnson spent 12 years as a pro boxer - with a record of 47-5 with 42 knockouts - before turning his attention to training amateur fighters.

More people take a jab

Johnson said local interest in the sport - among both males and females of all ages - has boomed within the past three years. About a dozen boxers recently jumped rope, jabbed at hanging bags, lifted weights and rolled with punches in and around the raised ring at Hagerstown Boxing Club.

Angie Seal of Martinsburg, W.Va., said she's been training with Johnson to get in shape for her January 2005 wedding.

"This is the best way to do it. (Johnson) really gives you a workout," Seal said. She also introduced her 9-year-old niece, Danielle James of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., to boxing. "It's even funner than gymnastics," Danielle said.

Fourteen-year-old Waynisha Anderson of Hagerstown first started boxing in eighth grade with the encouragement of her dad, former professional boxer Wayne Anderson. She generally trains about three hours, three days a week - a regimen that's made her stronger and more disciplined, she said.

"It's tough," Waynisha said. "But it's a fight that will help you out for the rest of your life."

Former pro kickboxer Jeff Haynes of Hagerstown said the sport helps its athletes set goals and achieve them. Haynes, vice president of Hagerstown Boxing Club, is working to establish a scholarship fund for young people who want to take up the sport but can't afford the club's membership fees, which cover operating costs.

"We want to reach out to kids in this community," said Haynes, 42, who added that all donations for the Dick Hess Scholarship Fund are tax-deductible.

Patrick Lynch said he was a failing student five years ago when he started kickboxing at the Hagerstown club. He said his daily training taught him self-control and discipline in all aspects of his life. He turned his grades around - and is now ranked the U.S. Kickboxing Association's No. 1 kickboxer in his weight class.

"If I keep it up, I probably could turn pro, no problem," said Lynch, 18, of Waynesboro, Pa.

He will compete in the International Kickboxing Federation's amateur kickboxing championships in Florida starting Friday, Aug. 13.

Where boxing still is the sweet sport:

Hagerstown Boxing Club
7 S. Potomac St.

Carlisle Boxing
Carlisle (Pa.) YMCA
311 S. West St.

Glory Gym
1179 Highland Avenue Road
Gettysburg, Pa.

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