By Karl Hegman
There are many unsung heroes in the sport of boxing. In fact, there are many more folks working behind the scenes with the fighters and the events that most people who follow boxing will never hear of. The volunteers that sacrifice time with their families to give back to the sport and community form a necessary and integral part of prizefighting to the extent that the Sweet Science could not exist without their selfless contributions. The Gulf Boxing Association 2012 Junior Olympics hosted by the Fighter Nation Gymnasium at 13305 Woodforest Blvd. Houston, TX. 77015 produced plenty of fistic fireworks and high drama that saw jubilation for the happy winners and consolation for the courageous losers. The gymnasium is a ministerial outreach of the non-denominational Fellowship Of The Nations Church located at the same location and features former World Light Welterweight Challenger Maurice “Termite” Watkins as the boxing director along with a support staff of some of the nicest folks you will ever meet from the church.
I was most impressed with 132 lb. National Silver Gloves Champion Anthony Rodriguez who scored a big stoppage and reminds me of a young Rafael Herrera in terms of his chin down, elbows in ring style from which he launches blistering attacks featuring the left hook to the body and head which he doubles under and over with polish, power and precision. Young Rodriguez can make a big impact on the sport if he continues to train hard and further develop his skill set and I know this may sound a bit cliched folks, but you may be looking at a future World Champion in the making here as the kid has guts and confidence in his abilities and can punch very hard. Young 65 pounder Damien Bautista outpointed Mark Renteria in a lively fight that saw the fur fly as these two scrappers went tooth and nail the entire route with saw Damien just eking it out down the stretch in a hard fought donnybrook while the crowd greatly appreciated their efforts.
Stylish Eduardo Garcia beat Robert Tamez in a close one, David Perez and Alex Reyes both scored nice wins as well during the course of the event, and young Hayden Mayhar enjoyed a heck of a victory he will never forget over scrappy Nathan Gonzales in the semi-windup in a whirlwind of a battle royal. It was a real pleasure seeing all of the kids in action, and the officials have done a great job in protecting the fighters’ health and well being and I encourage everyone reading this to come out and support the amateur boxing shows not only in Houston, but internationally as well. It was great shooting the breeze and spending, quality time with my boyhood hero Termite who was one of the most talented, groundbreaking and influential fighters in Houston’s history, and Randy Horn and his staff of officials did a superb job of keeping everything running smoothly as well.
If I could offer advice to the kids on anything, it would be to enjoy every second of this period in their lives. Enjoy every moment as there as just so many summers before they reach adulthood and then everything will begin to change. Your teammates move away when their fathers get jobs elsewhere, they graduate from high school and go off to college, or they join the military and begin careers and families of their own. These are the most wonderfula nd carefree times of their lives and I hope they embrace every minute of it.
I am always swept away by a tidal wave of nostalgia whenever I attend the fights as I remember the people and places of my own boxing boyhood. One such man was my very first boxing coach. I was 14 when my family moved to Quail Valley and I used to spend the summer at the Recreation Center shooting basketball and playing air hockey and Foosball in the back game room of the facility. One summer day, I got into a serious fight on the court with another kid and within a matter of several seconds I had the kid down on the cement and was pummeling him with wild, roundhouse swings. I felt a strong hand grab the back of my shirt and lift me up as I was pulled off of the other boy, and when I turned around I drew back with a right to take a punch at him when the voice in front of me said “Don’t try it, son.” Taking a look at the compact and strong man that was only a few feet from me, I willingly took his advice and backed up.
Fully expecting to be thrown out on my 95 pound ear and banned for life at the Rec Center, I was shocked when he introduced himself as Ray Alfred and he told me to come back Tuesday when he was working his boxing team out if I wanted to learn how to fight. We took to each other right away and for the next several years, Ray and those wonderful people there became the whole world to me. The man had the patience of a Saint putting up with my long haired punk self as he frequently stayed and worked with the fighters until 9 PM until the center closed for the day. One of the regrets I have in my life is that I never fully thanked him for that, and what is more he never charged any of his fighters one dime for working out, and it wasn’t until years later that I discovered he had paid the bill out of his own pocket to the association for our training. Termite said it best when he told me, “He helped a lot of kids.”
Wanting to take one last look at where the Recreation Center used to stand, (an apartment complex now occupies the site) I took a drive out to Missouri City Monday evening to walk around and do just that. As I strolled the premises I got to thinking about the kids I saw yesterday fight their hearts out, and wondered that if in thirty years they might be doing the same thing that I was doing right now, returning to once hallowed ground that proved to be a sanctuary from life’s complex troubles. I happened upon a young lady on the front grounds of the complex walking her dog, and she told me that the Recreation Center had stood abandoned in a state of dormancy and disarray for a couple of years after its closure. The old building was razed in 1999 to make way for the construction of the condominiums and apartments, finally allowing the ghosts of gladiators past to rest in peace.
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