Washington link packs a punch for our young boxers
Fists of fury will be flying in the US capital tomorrow as youth boxers from Belfast and Washington DC duke it out in an annual clash that's seen children from both cities parading their pugilistic prowess.
The sixth Belfast Beltway Boxing Classic (BBBC) was born of a need to get children in the toughest neighbourhoods of both cities off the streets and out of trouble.
The tournament traces its roots to the Ardoyne teen suicide crisis of the early 2000s.
It was then that Charlie Quinn and others decided to revive Ardoyne Boxing Club, which had been dormant for 10 years after losing access to a gym.
Mr Quinn (64) said that within a few years his son Manny, who had been living in Washington for years, suggested setting up a boxing exchange between the two cities. And in 2008 the BBBC held its first tournament.
The elder Quinn said that boxing has helped many youths in Ardoyne.
"Kids would be running about wild," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "But once they come into the club, what happens is that the discipline they get within the club, they bring it outside the club with them.
"And their mothers and fathers will even say that to us: 'He's a changed person since he's been around you'."
Andersonstown's Brendan Lowe (67), a BBBC referee who is also in Washington, said that the programme has had a huge impact on children in both cities. "They go home tired at night after training sessions instead of standing on street corners and getting into trouble," he said.
In all, 10 bouts between boxers aged 13-19 will be held at the Marriott Washington Wardman tomorrow.
The Northern Ireland team are Catholics and Protestants drawn from Ardoyne Holy Cross Boxing Club, Ballymoney Scorpion Boxing Club and the Larne Amateur Boxing Club.
In addition to Saturday's event, the Belfast contingent has spent four days visiting some of the area's famed tourist attractions and meeting political and civic dignatqries.
Political adviser Billy Tranghese, who helped create the BBBC, said the programme's popularity was growing both in Washington DC and in Belfast, where the next BBBC event will be held on August 17.
"More people are becoming aware of it, and more people want to become a part of it," he said.
"The number of our contributors have increased, our sponsors have increased, and the number of kids on both sides of the Atlantic that are involved is also growing."
Tai Rhan McBride, a coach of Washington's Diamonds in the Rough Boxing Club, agreed.
"There is a big buzz in the DC metro area.
Every year we get calls from all the different gyms – ones in Virginia, Maryland, DC – everybody wants to be a part of it," Mr McBride said.