Olympic gold medalist David Reid, along with world champions Jermaine Taylor and Vernon Forrest are all historic athletes from the USOEC boxing team-the same boxing program that was NMU history less than eight months ago.
After a lack of funding from USA boxing, the national governing body of the USOEC program, boxing was forced to close its doors because coaches’ salaries were no longer in the budget. But, in recent weeks, USA boxing has announced the reincarnation of the program with the needed funds.
“I can’t tell you where in the USA Boxing budget they found the money, but after they were given more time to try and raise the money and reallocate funds within their own budget, they were able to make it happen,” USOEC Director Jeff Kleinschmidt, said.
Along with the return of the program, comes long-time head boxing coach Al Mitchell. During Mitchell’s hiatus from Northern and the USOEC, he helped open a boxing program with Ringside Fitness, a local fitness facility, and is currently helping former USOEC boxer and NMU graduate Vernon Forrest train to fight for a World Boxing Council light-middleweight title shot.
In order to pay Mitchell’s salary and benefits, USA boxing has collected $50,000 for the 2008-2009 academic year.
Mitchell said his plans for the year included coaching for both Ringside and the USOEC, but he realizes he will be busy.
“The first couple months are going to be hard because we really don’t have the funds to be doing what we really should be doing. But in January, I think we’ll have everything back, and if we do, it will make it a lot easier on me,” he said.
In the prime of the boxing program, the roster had up to twenty athletes, two coaches, a coordinator and a better training facility.
Now, the USOEC has a six-man team, one head coach, one volunteer assistant coach and just two punching bags.
Despite the recent hardships, the team feels blessed to be training again.
“It’s a privilege, definitely, to be here and to help out,” said volunteer assistant coach Luis Gomez. “I just want to make (USOEC boxing) stay. It’s huge, not only to USA boxing, but to these kids’ future. It helped me tremendously, and it can help out so many more kids in the future.
“Nowhere else can an individual be offered an education while pursuing their dream,” Gomez added.
Gomez is a former member of USOEC boxing and is currently working toward his master’s degree in public relations.
Mitchell said he acquired the help of Gomez for training not only in the gym, but also outside of it.
“He is just great help, not only in the boxing system but in the college system as well,” Mitchell said.
Even though Gomez is unsure if he will continue boxing as an athlete in the amateur or pro ranks, he would like to incorporate both what he has learned in and out of the ring in his future career.
“If this were to develop into something where I would have a paid position, which would be awesome, or something else down the road working in boxing, that’s what I’m hoping for,” he said.
For at least a month, Gomez will be the role model Mitchell has chosen to lead this new squad.
Mitchell said the program was great because it took kids, often from inner-cities, and provided them with an education while they trained.
“The program should have never been closed because we’ve got young men getting their education,” Mitchell said.
“People always talk about all the world champs we’ve got out of the program and the Olympians, but they don’t say nothing about the guys who are teachers, or the one who is a principal, or guys that are policeman. And those are the good parts about [the program].”
With the intense demands of training for the USOEC comes the great responsibility of developing in the classroom – an obstacle the new athletes are willing to overcome The future of this program rest in the hands of returning seniors Greg Carter, a national silver medalist and Olympic alternate this summer, and DeRae Crane, also a former national silver medalist.
Along with the two returning boxers are four new promising athletes.
Manuel Lopez, a freshman on the squad, said he knows what is expected with the balance of the USOEC program and he is willing to work for it.
“While I’m here, I want to win. I want to win every tournament we go to. I want to win Regionals, I want to win the Golden Gloves, I want to win everything and at the end of the road I want to go to the 2012 Olympics,” Lopez said.
“I want to be on the dean’s list every year, every semester,” he added. “I want to be a straight-A student.”
Lopez is from Denver and was raised around the boxing ring by his father, who had a short professional career. Lopez applied for the program the same day he heard it was to be reinstated, because a trainer back home spoke highly of it.
Knowing the history of the program, Lopez and the new fighters have some big shoes to fill but it’s nothing but another round of a sparring session for the newcomers and the USOEC boxing program.
“I see history as history,” Lopez said. “I know all the great fighters that came out here and I’m like wow, and I know that that’s going to be me one day, and in a way, it makes me work harder-knowing world champions have been to this gym and that Al Mitchell is training world champions.”