I’m a thousand miles from home at the moment at the Australian Amateur Boxing League’sNational Titles, and I’m enjoying every minute of it.
Right now I’m watching two 13-year-old schoolboys belting it out, and the standard is surprisingly good. The boys are focused, controlled and highly skilled for their age. And behind each boy is a small team of older men – quietly watching every movement taking place in front of them, and gently caring for their boys between rounds.
Last night the lad I brought down with me had his bout. Mina is 15 – still very much a schoolboy, but with a physique that’s increasingly taking on adult proportions. It was only his third fight, so the national titles was a big step up for him. Even so, finding boys his age and his weight (63.5kg) is not normally easy, so we figured that by joining in here he’d be sure to get a bout or two.
Mina got his bout, and it was a courageous performance. He was outclassed by his opponent but he went the distance. Afterwards we found out that the winner was the current Australian champion and that it was his 70th fight! This certainly took the sting out of the loss, and when the champ found us and told Mina that he considered him the toughest opponent he’d ever fought, our boy was grinning from ear to ear.
In truth, this was only one of a number of truly memorable moments last night.
- I saw a 16-year-old return jubilantly to our change room after hard-won points decision. With both hands in the air, he was almost jumping out of his skin with excitement as he cried out “I’ve gotta call my dad and tell him!”
- I saw another young lad knock his opponent to the ground with a beautifully-timed body shot. As his opponent hit the canvas and the referee stopped the fight, the victor, instead of prancing around and celebrating his victory, kneeled down alongside his fallen mate and rubbed his back, and then helped him to his feet.
- I heard one of the old boxing officials (who didn’t know me) say, “I hear there’s a priest around here somewhere. We’d better watch our language!”
This last ‘memorable moment’ can’t be labelled a ‘highlight’ of course but was more of a reminder of just how far the boxing community is from understanding what Christ and the church are about. Of course, the converse is also true. Most church people have no idea what boxing is about but consider it to be nothing but legalised violence.
From my perspective, boxing is a celebration of manhood. It’s about boys becoming men and men supporting boys.
As every father knows, there are not many places left in this country where you’ll find teenage boys even listening to older men, let alone looking up to them as respected mentors. Likewise there are not many places where a young man can rumble with his mates in a controlled environment, and so develop the courage and self-control needed for adult life. It all happens here!.
I claim that we have 100% success rate with the young thugs and misfits that we manage to direct into amateur boxing. We don’t manage to get everyone who comes to us into competition of course, but for those who do undergo the necessary disciplines required to reach the side of the ring, the experience is always the same. The drugs and the thuggery stops, school grades improve, and elated parents come and thank me for what we’ve achieved. But in truth, it isn’t me. It’s the sport of amateur boxing.