Boxing, A High School Sport?

By Igor Frank


It has been a while since we had an American heavy weight champion. Most top heavy weights come from Eastern Europe these days. They come from top amateur programs with a lot of hard work and experience in the ring and they are hungry.


Experts blame the fall of an American heavyweight on a decay of our society and the fact that most big kids would rather play football or other organized sports.


Case in point, the featured attraction of upcoming high school boxing fight night, Celt Boxing Club’s top talent, Crespi High School senior, Karim “The Dream” Williams who already has a football scholarship at Grambling University for next year. “The challenge is to keep Karim here and keep him boxing,” said the Celt Boxing Club president, Mike Gonzaga:” our ultimate goal is to make boxing a high school sport.” “High school boxing is great, “exclaimed Steve Harpst, head coach of Burbank Boxing club: “we are looking at boxing program in college.”


Just think about what would happen if we had high school kids competing in boxing tournaments all over the country and then they were able to get boxing scholarships to go to a university. We would have a huge pool of talent in amateurs to go to the Olympics and then turn professional and best of all boxing could turn into a mainstream sport with national sponsors and network television… back to reality:


The event, a thrilling night of high school boxing action, will take place at Pierce College Basketball Gym in Woodland Hills, California on Friday, June 13th, 2008 at 6:00pm. Tickets can be purchased by calling 818 268-8957 or emailing your request at  Visit for more information. The event is sanctioned by USA Boxing; each contest is to include three two minute rounds. High school students, representing several different boxing clubs, from all over the Valley, Los Angeles and Riverside County, many of whom will be making their amateur debuts, will challenge each other inside the squared circle in front of their friends, schoolmates, families and a crowd of excited fans.


To get a better feel for this event, I visited with Celt Boxing Club and Burbank Boxing Club, watched the kids train and talked to them and their coaches.


Coach Mike Gonzaga, chief organizer of this event and a founder of Celt Boxing Club showed me around introduced me to the boys and shared his vision of high school boxing and upcoming tournament. Celt Boxing Club is renting space, with boxing ring and lots of training equipment, from 360 fitness center, a plush health club located in the city of Reseda, which used to be called Mid Valley Athletic Club.


Mike Gonzaga has graduated from Crespi High School in 1993, a small, private school in Encino. His father died from lung cancer before he started 12th grade and he was afraid of not being able to finish his education. “Crespi really took me in as a family, coach went out of his way to help me,” said Gonzaga:” and ever since then I told myself this is a special place. This really is a special place where a lot of teachers and coaches are alumni.”  Mike, with background in football and martial arts, has been a volunteer at Crespi High for the last twelve years. “This is a project of my heart,” said Mike:” I figured boxing was a safe way to reach kids. “Mike have used his heart, his energy and his money to get Celt Boxing Club off the ground. Ex champ Wayne McCullough donated boxing gear and equipment. James Toney and one of his trainers are there almost every day helping with training tips and investing their time with kids. Twenty one boys, nineteen out of Crespi High, many of whom will participate in the tournament, train rigorously for two hours switching up equipment every three minutes and then they do sparring. “Five days a week, two hours a day,” said Mike Gonzaga of their training program:” but recently we’ve stepped it up and are doing six days a week four hours a day.”


Besides physical training it is a mentorship program where coaches talk to kids about challenges in school and their daily lives. ‘ My main goal is to create better opportunities for these kids,” said Mike Gonzaga:” At the end of the day boxing is an avenue for teaching and mentoring these boys to become better people.”


Eighteen year old Randy Reiner uses boxing to release his aggression and loves the training so much that he wants to make it his life sport. He idolizes Ali and Frazier and dreams about cheers and support of his family and friends while he is winning his match in the tournament.” I just like punching people,” said fifteen year old heavy weight Duke Bautista who joined the club to get in shape. His opponent in the tournament will be a sophomore from Burbank High Joel Rojas who has been training at Burbank Boxing Club for the past two months. Joel loves boxing and dreams about becoming a champion. Sugar Shane Mosley is his favorite fighter, whose son, by the way, will participate in the tournament. Joel and his brother train six days a week under a watchful eye of Steve Harpst, who has started Burbank Boxing Club twelve years ago. Steve, who is on a board of directors of World Boxing Hall of Fame, loves boxing and shares his passion with his students. “We have got to have fun,” said Steve of his training sessions: “but they have to work hard.” Steve rewards their hard work by taking them to compete in different tournaments.


Please join me and witness a human drama unfold and support our boxing future and the labor of love of countless volunteers on Saturday June 13th, 2008 at Pierce College in Woodland Hills.