by Thomas MacMillan | Nov 3, 2011 11:12 am
Before he can begin to strengthen young fighters, Gary Smikle is looking to strengthen the windows of a new Dixwell youth boxing gym.
On Wednesday afternoon, after a ceremony celebrating the imminent opening of the Elephant In The Room boxing gym at the corner of Henry and Orchard streets, Smikle held a brief consultation about putting bars on the windows. He discussed options with his part-time employer, John Murphy, the head of a construction company that has donated time to transforming a long-abandoned gas station into a new center for pugilism.
Smikle will be the head trainer at the gym when it opens. He’s a former Jamaican amateur and professional boxer who represented the island in the 1988 Olympics in Korea. He’s also the former trainer of Devonne “Da Bomb” Canady, the local boxing champ who’s in charge of the gym.
Canady has been working for months to make her gym dream a reality. Wednesday’s event was an opportunity to celebrate all the people who have helped her along the way, including the city and Lowe’s hardware stores, which provided $12,000 in materials and labor.
A couple of dozen people, including the mayor and many red-shirted Lowe’s volunteers, gathered outside the gym at 3 p.m. Wednesday. Canady thanked nearly all of them by name and many more who weren’t present, for their efforts to get the gym off the ground.
“This is a momentous day for me,” she said.
She said she hopes the gym can contribute to reducing youth violence in the city. “I’m not saying this is the answer, but it sure could help.”
Inside the gym, a lone heavy bag hung in a space that is still being built out. Smikle said the gym has more equipment on hand to install once the renovations are all complete. Canady said she’s hoping to open the gym by the end of the month.
She’s still raising money for a ring. A recent $1,000 donation from Yale-New Haven Hospital—Canady’s employer for 17 years—brought the gym closer to the $6,200 it needs to buy a ring.
Mayor John DeStefano marveled at “how many years we’ve all driven by this place and said, ‘This is a butt-ugly building.’” He called city government’s $25,000 Community Development Block Grant towards the gym a “smart investment of city dollars.”
City government can’t solve all New Haven’s problems; it relies on partnerships with the community, DeStefano said. “We can help. But the legs, the hard work, and the muscle has to come from the community.”
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