Saturday, July 10, 2010
Back in the Ring
I went to check out something new today and wound up going back in time.
The Sadam Ali Boxing & Fitness Center opened its doors at 68th Street and 5th in Bay Ridge, right near the Alpine Theater at the site of what was at one time Nielson’s Furniture Store.
I can’t remember what went on at that location in the more recent past and that’s making me a little nervous. Oh, my poor old brain cells...
Anyway, I have an interest in boxing, as I've been taking the boxing classes at the New York Sports Club for close to 10 years now.
The instructors are great and you accomplish so much in just under an hour. You work with other people—as opposed to cranking away on a stationary bike by yourself—and you get to go nuts on the heavy bags. After a hard day at the office, hitting something is the best kind of therapy around.
It would take a lot to get me away from the NYSC crowd, but I confess I like the idea of a boxing gym right around the corner from my house. If nothing else, I thought I could at least attend the grand opening and look the place over.
The gym looks great. It’s got boxing rings, heavy bags, and tread mills in the basement and they sell sports equipment upstairs. I really wish the owners the best of luck. There are too many empty store fronts around Bay Ridge and we really need some successful businesses.
Several well-known fighters were scheduled to attend the opening, but I did a double-take when I saw one man who was not listed in the press release.
It was Pat Russo, a retired police sergeant whom I first met more than 20 years ago while working as a reporter for a local weekly newspaper.
At least I was pretty sure it was him. It had been a while since I last saw him and I might have been mistaken, but I heard him say his name while introducing himself to some people.
Still I hesitated, fearful he might have forgotten me. But then I decided, oh, what the hell? If he doesn't know me, I'll just say have a nice day and bounce.
“Excuse me,” I said, “I don’t know if you remember me, but I was a reporter—”
Well, Pat did remember me and we had a great time talking about people we used to know and what we were up to now. It’s hard to believe the time went by so quickly, but the ring rust we had acquired over the last two decades quickly disappeared.
Pat used to work out of the 72nd Precinct Community Patrol unit in Sunset Park and I had a lot of fun with those cops. I rode around in a police van, walked a beat with one of the officers, Bob Orazem, and spent a lot of time hanging around the police station. It was cool.
Pat boxed for the police department’s team and I had the pleasure of writing an article about him when the NYPD went up against the London police department’s team.
He also founded the Sunset Park PAL boxing program and I covered the club’s opening. It was a big deal for the neighborhood because Pat wanted to get kids off the street and into the gym.
The program ran for 20 years, but then the city’s Parks and Recreation Department evicted Pat and the boxing program, claiming it needed the space for an after-school program.
Pat dismissed that idea, saying the parks commissioner just doesn’t like boxing.
“I’ve got a gym in Flatbush now,” he told me, “but it’s a hike for the kids in Sunset Park. And the little kids can’t make that trip.”
We talked some more about people we know and how the neighborhood has changed. Newspapers still had a future back when I first knew Pat, as opposed to now where…well, the less said the better.
When I left that paper, Pat and some of the other cops came to my going away party. From there I went to work at a daily in Pennsylvania for five years, then on to a Connecticut paper for another four, and then finally back to New York.
Pat and I talked some more, exchanged business cards and I went home, amazed that I had traveled so far on such a short walk.