By CRAIG HARVEY
OBSERVER Sports Editor
For Tommy Roque, boxing isn't just a sport.
OBSERVER?Photos by Craig Harvey
Tommy Roque has opened up the Northern?Chautauqua County Boxing Club and is offering free lessons to anyone interested in training. With Roque is coach Eddy Torres and members of the club. Pictured above are some of the training techniques Roque uses.
To the Dunkirk resident, it is an opportunity to teach youth about values, morals and life lessons
He has coached hundreds of athletes throughout the years and helped his son become an Armed Forces Boxing champion in the Marines.
Now, Roque is offering free boxing lessons to anyone ages 8 to 18 who is interested in improving as an athlete and as a person.
"It's more about life," Roque said as he watched 11 understudies train at the Dunkirk High School track.
"Everything builds around boxing - to character, to loyalty, to honesty. A lot of it is going away. This has become a 'me' society. There is not many people giving back, especially to the youth today. That's why I love this. I love working with the kids. I love seeing them grow and progress in life. This is not just boxing."
The new program, which Roque calls the Northern Chautauqua County Boxing Club, started up two months ago with a small inquiry.
Elon DeJesus and his mother drove past Roque's home and asked if he was going to be starting boxing lessons anytime soon.
"I said, 'Matter of fact, I am,'" Roque said. "I woke up at 4 a.m. and gutted out my garage. I started ordering equipment. I spent about $1,200 in equipment. I ordered hand wraps, gloves, head gear, everything. My son brought me a bag and I received another bag from a friend."
Through word of mouth, 17 more Dunkirk students slowly showed up at Roque's door one by one and asked if they could start training.
Now, Monday through Thursday, Roque can be seen at the Dunkirk High School track or at his home on the corner of Fourth Street and Canary Street teaching boxing lessons from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. On Mondays and Wednesdays, the participants run three miles, do 250 pushups, 90 crunches, run the bleachers and jump rope. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Roque has the athletes sparring and hitting the punching bag.
When asked if Roque has ever turned someone away, he quickly responded, "I haven't and I can't."
Roque helped coach boxing in Dunkirk in the late 90s through the 2XL program. However, after the program lost funding, Roque took a break from coaching.
If the numbers continue to grow, Roque vows he will find a way to accommodate anyone and everyone. He is currently in talks with local organizations to keep kids off the streets and into the boxing ring.
He has already received a $500 grant from the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association.
"Tommy is doing a service for the kids and we thought it would be a great thing to get behind," Al Mothershed, Western Region Vice President of NYSCOPBA, said.
Roque is also teaching respect. Win, lose or draw, after every match, his students will shake their opponent's hand, as well as the coaches, judges and referee.
"It's teaching good conduct," Roque said. "That's what we are trying to teach. All we are trying to do is become better productive citizens in society. This isn't about boxing. It's about life. They are always going to meet someone they're not going to like. It's the same way in boxing. How are you going to handle this?"
In just two months, Roque has seen the boxers' self esteem sky rocket.
"They don't look down no more," Roque said. "They look you straight to your face now. They walk with their head up. I tell them they don't have to walk with their head down. They feel better about themselves now. I tell them the biggest fear is when you get in that ring. When you get out, there is nothing you will fear. When they go to school and someone picks on them now, they know they can light them up, but now they walk away from it."
Part of Roque's mission is making boxing a component that will bring fathers and sons together. Each father is given a booklet titled "The Model Father" by Dr. Raymond Barber.
"In today's society, people don't have relationships," Roque said. "Parents are coming here and becoming coaches. It's important the father has a very important role with his son. I'm having more father involvement. They are intertwining with their kids. You don't see that. It's about them growing up to become better fathers and not disappoint their kids with structure. A lot of kids need this structure. It's important to get the family involved and talk about the model father."
Eddy Torres is a father of one of the participants and has seen a big change in his son, Junior, and all the participants.
"As hard as Tommy pushes them, none of them have quit yet," he said. "They keep going. Even the slowest guy hasn't given up. Boxing and training you can do all year long. It's good to keep them active. Junior has changed a lot. His grades are good. He is in the ROTC program. He just got promoted to first sergeant. His self esteem has gone through the roof. He is doing a lot better. He isn't coming home with an attitude anymore."
One reason all the participants have stuck with the program is the sense of pride they take in their training and the family atmosphere Roque has implemented.
"Every day we hug each other," Roque said. "They call each other. They are more of a family unit than anything else. They respect each other. They look out for each other and help each other. You don't see that anymore. None of these kids really knew each other and now they talk to each other every night. My sense of accomplishment is when they accomplish something. It's a beauty when you see them know nothing and start progressing as men. It's a beautiful thing.
"They are worth it."