By Rob Potter
MONTICELLO April 6, 2007 Despite beginning just a few weeks ago, a boxing program in Monticello is already very successful.
Back on March 6, the program held its first training session at the Ted Stroebele Recreation Center.
Since then about 40 teenage boys and adult men have attended at least one session at The International Boxing Academy of Monticello.
The academy, which recently became a 2007 member of United States Amateur Boxing, holds training sessions on Mondays, Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at the Stroebele Center.
Ray Sheenan of Smallwood is the lead instructor at the academy.
“We have guys from 14 to 73 here,” said Sheenan, referring to the respective ages of the youngest boxer and himself.
Sheenan is originally from New Jersey and began boxing when he was a teenager. When he was a 17-year-old senior at St. Peter’s High School in New Brunswick, NJ, Sheenan boxed for the Dunellen Police Athletic League.
“There were a lot of guys in the PAL boxing program and we all did pretty well,” he said.
In fact, Sheenan won the New Jersey state amateur title in his weight class. He thought about turning professional after graduating from high school, but his parents said “no” to that idea.
Although he took a different career path, Sheenan always enjoyed the sport of boxing. When he learned that the Village of Monticello Parks and Recreation Department was starting a boxing program, Sheenan was eager to help make it work.
Among those who share that goal are Betsy Conaty, Earl Gomez, Rick Gonsalves, and Troy Nowlin. Conaty is the Director of the Village of Monticello Parks and Recreation Dept., Gomez is a volunteer who helps the academy’s boxers with their upper body training, Gonsalves has trained fighters around the nation and Nowlin is a former amateur boxer who helps Sheenan with the overall instruction of the academy participants.
“Troy has a really good left jab,” Sheenan said with a smile as he spoke of Nowlin, a Monticello native and Assistant Coach of the national champion Sullivan County Community College (SCCC) men’s basketball team.
Sheenan especially noted the work Conaty has done for the International Boxing Academy of Monticello, which includes helping to arrange use of the Stroebele Center for several hours four days a week.
“Betsy does a super job for the village’s recreation department,” Sheenan said. “She has given us a lot of help.”
“It’s good to see so many teens and adults in this program,” Conaty said. “Everything has been going very well.”
Gonsalves, who resides in Milanville, Pa. and has trained boxers in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, is not too surprised by the academy’s popularity.
“There is a lot of interest in boxing around here,” he said.
Because there is no ring at the Stroebele Center, the boxers who currently attend sessions at the academy are focusing on improving their offensive and defensive moves. They are also learning about professional jump roping, upper body strength training and aerobic road conditioning.
But Sheenan hopes to have some of the academy’s fighters in the ring in a few months. He has been in contact with a boxing club in Brooklyn about the possibility of holding a card of 10 fights where members of the two boxing clubs would square off against each other.
Sheenan is hopeful that such a boxing event can be held this summer at a venue in Sullivan County.
Such a card would be especially welcomed by Frank Spear and Jean Vargas, who are two of the regulars at the Monticello boxing academy. The 20-year-old Spear and 19-year-old Vargas have boxed in PAL and other amateur events in other areas of New York State.
Spear, who lives in Loch Sheldrake and is a freshman at SCCC, and Vargas, who resides in Monticello, both like to share their boxing knowledge with the younger academy participants.
“I know the dangers that are out there facing these younger guys the drugs and other things that mean a lot of trouble,” said Spear, who grew up close to New York City. “This is a positive program they can get involved in.”
Like Spear, Vargas really believes in the Monticello academy.
“It’s good, it helps these guys learn more about boxing,” Vargas commented. “We need to keep it going.”
Both Spear and Vargas are hoping to one day become professional boxers. If they do, they can count on the support of Sheenan and the other academy instructors.
Sheenan said that he and everyone at the academy will help train and support any of the young boxers who are serious about becoming pro fighters.
While Sheenan is excited about that possibility, he is just as pleased that the academy is working to improve its participants in other areas of their lives.
For example, he has contacted his good friend Dick Riseling about helping the younger academy members consider some career options. Riseling, whom Sheenan described as “a real boxing aficionado,” is an expert in the area of renewable energy. Sheenan said that Riseling has offered to assist the academy members to learn more about renewable energy sources so they can possibly start a career in that field.
In addition, Sheenan has contacted the Literacy Volunteers of Sullivan County and Monticello Central School Superintendent Dr. Patrick Michel about ways to help the young boxers further their education.
Sheenan has also talked with Bernard Gassaway about assisting the academy’s fighters in the classroom. Gassaway is on the Board of Directors for the International Boxing Academy of Monticello and is a Senior Superintendent in the New York City Public School System.
After just five weeks in operation, the academy is making a great deal of progress.
“The core guys here are excellent kids,” Sheenan commented. “It’s exciting to see all of these guys who are so dedicated to coming here and working out.”
To learn more about the International Boxing Academy of Monticello, please call the Village of Monticello Parks and Recreation Department at 794-2351.