A solid ‘Hook’ gives kid boxing program new life

By Gary Buiso

Exiled from a city-owned facility in Sunset Park, a popular boxing program has found a welcome mat in Red Hook. The Police Athletic League boxing ring—albeit a newer, smaller one—is now being moved to the PAL Miccio Day Care Center, 595 Clinton Street. For Pat Russo, the director of boxing for the Police Athletic League (PAL) and the NYPD Boxing Team, the new home is a satisfying win, but it’s no knockout. “It’s a good thing—but I’m not giving up on Sunset Park,” said Russo, a retired sergeant from the neighborhood’s 72nd Precinct. Back in October, the program and its boxing ring were booted from the park house in Sunset Park, located at 4302 7th Avenue. Russo said the program attracted about 25 kids and young adults, aged 10-21, every night, during its 20 years of existence. He said the program was especially helpful keeping at-risk teens away from the poisonous influences that could set them up for a life of ruin. Russo said PAL officials in Red Hook heard about the boxing program’s well-publicized Sunset Park problem, and notified him that there was unused space available. Russo said the Red Hook facility would continue to attract the older kids from Sunset Park. For younger children, though, he said, the commute “could be tough.” “What do you tell them?” he wondered. “They are out there on the street, and they are looking at the cops and saying, ‘How could you shut down the program?” The blame should be placed on the shoulders of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, for evicting the boxing program from Sunset Park, Russo said. He has in the past blasted Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe as being “anti-boxing,” a charge the agency has rejected. Warner Johnston, a spokesperson for the Parks Department, said the agency’s position remains as it was in October. “Nothing has changed for us,” Johnston said. At the time, Johnston told this paper that there was no more room for the boxing program in Sunset Park because of an expanded after-school program in the same building. “The grant funding we received allows us to service double the number of children we currently serve with structured, meaningful after-school programs that provide academic and athletic enrichment six days a week throughout the year,” he said at the time. This week, Johnston added, “We are drawing more children than ever. Unfortunately, the two programs couldn’t coexist with the finite amount of space.” Russo noted that the Sunset Park building offered about triple the amount of space as the Red Hook facility. Johnston said the boxing ring was a permanent feature, and took up too large a portion of the gym. “We couldn’t have kids playing there, it’s very simple,” Johnston said. “We are quite pleased they were able to locate alternate facilities,” he added. Russo stepped outside the boxing ring for inspiration. “It’s never over until it’s over,” he said, paraphrasing Yankees great Yogi Berra. Russo said his objective all along was to maintain a boxing program in Sunset Park. “My dream is to have one in every precinct,” he said. But, like Berra also once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” And that’s what Russo will do. “Kids will be training in Red Hook for the Golden Gloves,” he said, referring to the boxing tournament. The Sunset Park program was the last city-housed facility of its kind on Brooklyn. There are currently three other city-housed boxing programs: one in the Bronx and two in Queens. Russo said he was grateful for the new space, thanking U.S. Senator Charles Schumer for publicizing the issue, as well as City Coun-cilmember Sara Gonzalez and State Senator Marty Golden, for championing the program’s cause. “With the Golden Gloves tournament just around the corner, this new gym space in Red Hook is the perfect Christmas gift for these kids,” Schumer said. “This new space will ensure that Patty Russo and the PAL program continue to provide guidance and positive outlets in Brooklyn neighborhoods,” he added. Doris Montgomery, the director of the day care center, said the boxing program would be a welcome addition to the building. “It gives kids a chance to work off that energy, and get the anxiety out in a creative way,” she said. Also, she continued, “They learn a skill and I think it’s very good for the community.” Presently, children ages two through five attended the center, and that will remain unchanged. An after-school program operating inside the building ended in September, opening the door, literally, for the boxing program’s relocation. “It fills the void,” Montgomery said.

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