RUSKIN — It’s not about violence. It’s about focus, control and determination.
And for at least one Ruskin teen, it’s about eventually helping his family monetarily.
What started as an all-volunteer effort of one Ruskin man to give teenage boys what he didn’t have himself has now produced a State Champ, and has others preparing to follow in his footsteps.
Luis Rivera of Ruskin, 15, a 9th-grader at Lennard High School, took the Silver Gloves State Championship for 2012 and in May won his match against Georgia State Champion Jaire Mack in Regional Junior Olympics held in North Carolina.
Known as “El Gallo Negro” Luis battled his way to victory with much help from Coach Rolando Barrientos and Assistant Coach Arnie Rodriguez.
Now Luis is headed to Nationals in Mobile, Alabama, June 18.
Originally from Homestead, Luis played football before moving to Ruskin two years ago. A lightweight, he says his dad feared for him on the football field, so he changed to boxing.
“I got into boxing through my cousin Ernesto in Homestead,” Luis said. “He liked to box.”
Luis took to it right away. He says his many quickly-earned successes come from a combination of focus and determination.
“Those are the things that make you a winner,” Luis said.
His coaches say his parents, Luis Sr. and Beronica, are a big help to both their son and the rest of the small group that they train.
“They have spent a lot of time and money helping us, and sponsoring,” said Barrientos.
Others in the community help as well, but the volunteer not-for-profit Ruskin Boxing Club can always use more.
Sometimes simple things are just what they need, like Rick Graves Jr. of Southeast Windows and Glass showing up just before the group left for Regionals with a supply of tape, bandages and gauze, Barrientos said.
Also competing at Regionals was Brian Gonzalez, 13, who boxed in the second bout of the evening against Money Powell, another Georgia champion.
“It was a tough bout,” Barrientos said. “He battled hard for three rounds but nevertheless came up short. Still, he kept his head up and gained experience. After all, he is still a Junior Olympic Florida Champion.”
Brian, who has only been boxing one year, says he wants to help his family financially through his boxing.
“I don’t want my family to be in poorness,” he said wistfully.
Chris Meza and Mario Pecina – both 13- went to Regionals to give their friends support and also to get a feel for what it will be like when they compete.
Chris, 13, attends Progress Village Middle Magnet School because of his interest in music. He plays both drums and guitar. He started boxing about six months ago for exercise and took to it immediately.
Mario, also 13, attends Beth Shields Middle School and intends to get serious with the gloves.
When asked why Coach Barrientos set up a ring in his backyard and began training on a nonprofit basis, Barrientos said he boxed in his youth, but never found a trainer who took a real interest. So when he got older, he started training younger boys.
“The first one I was working with died, so I stopped for nine years. But I came back to it,” he said.
He not only tries to train boxers, he is a good role model.
As an example, while in North Carolina, Barrientos aided a boxer that had no trainer.
Rodriguez said “he stayed in his corner and wrapped him and coached him on like he was his trainer.”
That boxer was Jose Valenzuela of Miami, and due to the help he received, he will also advance to Nationals in Mobile. He still calls Barrientos on the telephone and asks him questions about moves and technique.
While at Regionals, Joshua Rodriguez helped keep the boxers hydrated and calmed while in their corners, the coaches said.
Joshua, 20, son of the assistant coach, has autism.
“He called the whole thing an adventure,” Coach Rodriguez said. “He helped us in the corner, made sure the boys ate, that kind of thing. He really enjoyed himself and was a big help, kind of like another guardian.”
Some of the sponsors who helped to pay for the trips are Linda Badgerow of Dickman Realty, Apollo Rental, D&L Insurance, Killingsworth, Manasota Windows & Doors, G&A Stucco, Ortiz Construction, Southeast Windows & Glass, Osprey Construction, Mindy Rodriguez of HighTimez Entertainment, and Assistant Coach Rodriguez’s company, A&R Stucco.