Young boxers take home five regional titles in Ga. tourney

Umar fighters headed to nationals in Kansas

January 08, 2002|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

The young men from the Umar Boxing Program brought home five regional Silver Glove titles last weekend and are looking for a repeat performance at the national championships at the end of the month.

"We couldn't wait to get back," said Marvin McDowell, the program's founder. "They went down there and did what they said they were going to do."

Rashad Dendy, 11, won an Eastern Regional Silver Glove championship at Augusta, Ga., without stepping into the ring: No fighters in his weight class were on hand. The other winners were James Berry, 14; Jeff McCalla, 15; Tavon Sol, 10; and Emanuel Taylor, 11, who fought twice.

The regional competition was a first for James, who is on the honor roll at Harlem Park Middle School. He fought one bout in Augusta, battling his way through three two-minute rounds.

"I had butterflies, but I wasn't scared," said James, now a champion in the 85-pound class for ages 14 and 15. "It felt great. I got a medal."

Willie Johnson, 14, and Louis Butler Jr., 15, making his first amateur bout, also fought but did not bring home titles.

"They fought close fights. I wasn't disappointed with the outcome, because it could have gone either way," said McDowell. "But the other ones won convincingly."

In three years, McDowell and his colleagues, many of them retired boxers, have turned Umar from a dream to a vital part of the West Baltimore community. More than 200 young men and women are enrolled in the program, which is run out of a converted rowhouse in the 1500 block of Fulton Ave.

It has become a local success story and a routine stop for professional boxers and trainers. The program also is gaining national attention. The current issue of Ring magazine features a profile of Umar.

The club's motto, "No Hooks before Books," stresses discipline, hard work and schoolwork. The fighters didn't leave their books behind last weekend.

"We made sure that they did some extra schoolwork," said McDowell. "It was pretty busy. It wasn't like a vacation. "

Umar's next competition will be at the national Silver Glove Championship in Lenexa, Kansas, scheduled for Jan. 31 to Feb. 3. McDowell, who will be coaching a Maryland team that will include several other young boxers, said he doesn't plan to let Umar's kids rest.

"They'll be running, training hard, doing a lot of sparring and really getting in condition," he said. "It's a different level when you get to the nationals."

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