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One man attempts to revive boxing in Roswell

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Drew Lopez works out at Bamma Boxing as he gets ready for an upcoming fight. (J.T. Keith Photo)

There was a time when Roswell was a boxing town — a time when fighters would train at the Boys & Girls Club; when the town would show up at Roswell High School and NMMI venues where the fights were held. Fans would show up and support the Halls, the Anayas, “Chubby” Browns and Bacas along with other great local fighters as they attempted to win the Golden Gloves at whatever weight class they were fighting at.

Aaliyah De La Cerda, a 4-year-old, works out at Bamma Boxing along with her brother. (J.T. Keith Photo)

For the fighters, it gave them a sense of pride and accomplishment. It was a way to express their individuality if they didn’t feel like playing stick and ball sports but still wanted to be a part of a team and be recognized for their efforts. Boxing allowed the fighters to train together and working out as being part of a team. It allowed them to get up at 5 a.m. and do their morning workout to log miles before going to the gym to hit the heavy bag, and speed bag before sparring rounds to stay sharp.

During those long drives to other cities to fight other fighters, talking with trainer Willie Hall helped make a difference in many a fighter. Those rides to Texas, Arizona, Colorado and all over New Mexico were more about bonding and growing into manhood than they were about boxing.  During those times, it gave each fighter the confidence they needed to win inside the ring and out.

As generations have passed, so has boxing in Roswell. There have been no big fights in Roswell, or fighters to root for. It seems like boxing has given way to other things and kids that don’t want to play team sports have taken up playing video games and other sports.

There has been a void in learning the sweet science of boxing until recently, since one man, George Lacey, a transplant from Kalamazoo, Michigan, has made it his mission to reach the youth of Roswell and give them options and an activity to keep them off the streets.

Lacey started boxing when he was 7 years old, he was good enough to win the Golden Gloves at nationals at 147 pounds in 1984 and in 1988. He was good enough to go to the Olympic Trials in 1988 before losing to Kenneth Gould. Gould would win a gold medal in the Olympics that summer.

Lacey moved to Roswell in 1989 and graduated high school from here. He boxed for a couple of years here and quit boxing at age 38. Last year a manager named Sergio asked Lacey to help him teach other kids how to box at Extreme Boxing. Until last year, he was doing other things and then got the itch to help others box and impart what he knows to other kids. He opened up a gym on McGaffey Street.

Lacey had to move to a bigger location because he had more students than he had space for. So he joined Richard Villa, a friend of his who offered him a bigger gym for his boxing team, which has now grown to 38 kids.

“Villa is on the same page as I am,” Lacey said. “Our goal is to get these kids off the streets and give them something to do. The Boys & Girls Club said, ‘They don’t want to be involved in boxing and all they care about right now is what is going on with them.’ They said, once everything gets better, they might involve boxing back into the Boys Club.”

Lacey feels like the kids need something to do, not just boxing but other sports as well. Lacey fears that if the kids don’t have a healthy lifestyle and just sit in front of the TV or playing video games, they will become physically unfit. Lacey feels like if kids are active in anything positive, they will be less inclined to turn to the streets, and try gang banging, drugs or worse.

“My main thing,” Lacey said, “is when the kids come here — to respect your parents, respect your teachers. I want to see your grades every semester and I don’t want to hear you getting suspended from school, no drugs or cussing.”

The gym has members from 3 years old to 40 years old. The people in the community have responded with trying to help Lacey’s initiative to help the youth. He has picked up a sponsor in Chris Whitney from Farmer’s Insurance. He has bought the boxers’ wraps and tape and will buy seven boxers’ uniforms.

“I get enjoyment out of coaching these kids,” Lacey said. “I just wanted to give these kids something to do. We pick up a lot of members by word of mouth.”

The gym is open on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. If fighters wish to join, they can call Lacey at 575-840-1377 anytime during the day. Right now, Lacey doesn’t have any fighters good enough to fight Golden Gloves, but he does have three fighters good enough to fight in the Silver Gloves — Rex Glenn, Adan Esparza and Matthew Flores. His boxers only have six fights at most under their belts.

The team has boxed three matches this year and is sanctioned. They fight through USA Amateur Boxing. They most recently fought in Las Cruces, March 30, with Esparza being the best fighter so far. Other fighters that show promise are Jorge Chavez, Flores and Glenn. The fighters that just started are Isaiah Payne, Logan Henry and Drew Lopez.

The team will be going to the Junior Olympics on April 27 and 28 in Los Lunas. “The main thing I want to teach these kids is respect and discipline,” Lacey said. “If I can teach them those two things, they will go a long way in life. I want to be a positive impact on young people’s lives. I want to teach them that no matter how many times they lose, to never give up on anything in life.”

Whether Roswell ever becomes a hotbed for boxing again remains to be seen. Lacey has a dream to turn young people into champions, as people, while teaching the necessary skills to become a boxer.