By Angela Barbosa
A young man punching a bag on the left, a threesome throwing their strongest punches on the right, camera flashes capturing the moment a fighter would maneuver away from a blow, fans and families members cheering were all part of the scenario I walked into on the first anniversary of the Champs Boxing Club (CBC) in Danbury, CT.
You may not know but the rebirth of boxing in Danbury was the result of the passion of a young man, A.J. Galante, and one-time world heavyweight title contender from Danbury, Fernely Feliz. Together they created Elite Boxing Enterprises, a professional boxing management company that has already helped one fighter — Danbury’s own Delvin Rodriguez — skyrocket into the world junior-middleweight rankings.
But Rodriguez is not the only talent the president and founder of Elite Boxing, Galante, and Fernely, helped unveil. Through a youth mentoring program at the CBC, called Youth Fighting Forward, they have been mentoring boys and girls ages 8 to 17 with a combination of boxing and education.
“The program is free for the members during windows of time each day. Right now we have about 11 hours of programming per week at the gym,” shares Galante. “It’s not all about boxing, the priority is promoting overall personal development and making sure the kids understand the value of education.”
Galante explains that there are strict rules and requirements so children can remain eligible in the free program, including maintaining a certain GPA and doing community service. The program has volunteers who speak Spanish.
At the Danbury chapter, Fernely Feliz Jr., 19, born and raised in Danbury, followed in his father’s footsteps. Fernely Jr.’s dream is to one day be a heavyweight champion.
And he seems to be on the right path. Just last week, Jr. won the super heavyweight title in Missouri and advanced to Nationals in November. Other members of CBC who also advanced to the Nationals are Omar Bordoy, who won the 141-pound title, Gabe Duran, who won the 108-pound title, and Rauf Tahir, who won runner up in the 152-pound division and is still eligible for Nationals in November.
|The mutual feeling of gratitude and responsibility to work hard to pay back what Galante invests in the youth is shared by many of the young fighters. “AJ is like my brother. He is one of the best guys that God could ever put in my life. I believe God puts people in your life. I’m happy to have AJ. He’s a help, he’s a brother, he’s a mentor, he’s someone I can go to talk to. Anything I need, he’s there for me,” said Jr.
For Rauf Tahir, 20, originally from Pakistan, who has resided in America for 10 years, boxing came into his life as a self-defense technique much needed.
“When I first came to America, I was a little skinny boy who was into books. I got picked on a lot. So I started going to a gym to learn how to fight just for self-defense,” said Tahir.
|Due to the lack of money, Tahir could not afford to go to a gym, but he was done with fighting on the streets and seeking revenge. “I decided to put the negative away, and make something out of it.”|
The Youth Fighting Forward was a perfect fit for Tahir. “Here we have the ‘strive for success’ incentive program,” said Galante, adding, “We have goals for members to reach, and if they reach them they get points. Some goals include getting an ‘A’ on a quiz or report card, or extra community service hours. These points can be redeemed for donated prizes from local businesses or new boxing gloves the kids can call their own. We believe in serving goals and believe that with incentives kids are more engaged.”
There are currently 20 kids in the Youth Fighting Forward program. For those wishing to make a donation to help Galante and Fernely Sr. offer that opportunity to more children, they can request more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Champs Boxing Club is located at 128 East Liberty Street, Unit H, Danbury, CT. Visit their website at www.supereliteboxing.com, or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.