MARK TUCKER, 43, of Eldersburg, is bringing the sport of amateur boxing to the area by forming the Maryland Boxing Club and holding exhibition fights Jan. 11 at Super Sports, a sports complex in Eldersburg.
The exhibition, he says, will feature amateur boxers from New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, West Virginia and Salisbury.
The boxers will spar in an elevated ring in an event that Tucker describes as Las Vegas-style boxing, complete with "ring card girls."
The event will include female boxers.
Tucker started the Maryland Boxing Club a year ago in his home, partly to help train his two sons, Mark Jr., 16, and Timmy, 8, but also to broaden participation in a sport traditionally associated with cities.
The younger Mark began boxing regularly three years ago.
To get proper training and conditioning, Tucker and his son traveled to Washington several nights a week.
In April 2000, Mark Jr. competed in the Maryland-Washington Golden Gloves Championship held at the Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing Gym - and won.
His amateur career continued to flourish. Last year, Mark won the Tri-State Golden Gloves Championship in his weight class and participated in the Junior Olympics.
He is ranked third nationwide in his weight class by USA Boxing, the governing body for the amateur sport.
Fueled by his son's success, Tucker decided to start a club in Eldersburg. He drew the interest of several backers and now runs a gym studio in his home with equipment for conditioning and training young boxers. His basement/gym contains punching bags and weight training equipment, with floor-to-ceiling mirrors for shadow boxing. Behind his house, in a detached garage, is a boxing ring for sparring.
Tucker's club has 13 members, with some traveling from Frederick for classes and conditioning three to five times a week. Boxers from Washington clubs sometimes travel to Eldersburg to spar with his boxers.
"I wanted to bring the sport of boxing to the rural areas of Carroll and Howard," says Tucker, who hopes the coming exhibition will boost club membership. "I believe rural athletes have a lot of talent and are overlooked."
Tucker says that many athletes from rural areas aren't willing to drive to urban settings to train. Given the opportunity, Tucker believes they will take up the sport, which he says fosters self-discipline, confidence and superior conditioning. He says boxing offers an outlet for athletes who don't excel in team sports, but prefer one-on-one competition.
Tucker is a certified USA Boxing Level 2 coach for Olympic-style boxing. He is assisted by three other coaches, Steve Broussard, Harry Meyers and Charlie Tuttle. Each evening, training begins with stretching, then continues to more strenuous exercises, including 10 sets of 10 weighted push-ups, and 300 sit-ups. "Bag work" can last as long as 30 minutes, and the boxers finish with more aerobic training.
In the club, Tucker has posted what he hopes are subliminal messages for his training athletes - signs and posters that read, "Be Vicious," or "Second Place is the First Loser" and "Only those who dare to lose, win."
"It takes a lot to step through those ropes," says Tucker, referring to the natural anxiety boxers feel when confronting a worthy opponent in the ring.
But Tucker's group has had continued success. Mark plans to compete again in a Junior Olympic event. Tucker's younger son has a shelf of trophies to prove the effectiveness of his father's coaching.
Doors will open at 7 p.m. for the exhibition fight at Super Sports, 1430 Progress Way. General admission is $20; children ages 8 to 17, $15; and children younger than age 8, $7.50. Tables are available.
Programs at Piney Run Park Nature Center continue all winter, including cross-country skiing Wednesdays through February with adequate snow. Participants are asked to bring ski equipment. The nature center cautions that staff members are not certified ski instructors, and trails are not groomed for skiing.
The center has planned two trips for cross-country skiing at Crystal Lake in Pennsylvania.
The first will be held Jan. 19-21 and the second Feb. 16-18. Crystal Lake Ski Center features woodland paths and accommodates beginning and advanced skiers. Registration is required.
"Mother Nature," "Mom and Me" and "Babes in the Woods" programs for children age 5 and younger continue through mid-February, and several other winter programs are planned, including hikes and craft workshops.
Winter hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
If you are a regular reader of the neighborhood section, you might know that today marks the end of the weekly neighborhood columns. I wish a fond farewell to our readers and especially to those people who contributed to the columns.
Our neighborhood news will continue to be reported in the Carroll Digest and Datebook. I hope to continue to contribute to The Sun, although on a more limited basis.
It has been a pleasure for me to cover community events in the southeast area for the past two-plus years. Through this column, I have enjoyed meeting and talking with many talented people whose contributions benefit us all.
Thank you all for your continued support of our neighborhoods.