RUSKIN — When Rolando Barrientos first started teaching young boys to box, it was to give them something constructive to do that would keep them off the streets.
“It’s important to me that I teach them sportsmanship, how to get in and stay in shape, not just win titles,” Barrientos said.
He started with two boys, Luis Rivera and Mario Pecina, both of whom are now First Place title winners. Barrientos said he boxed as a youth but never found a coach who took a real interest so when he saw the need for something constructive for area youth to do, he set up a ring in his backyard and started training those who came.
Just since Thanksgiving, he has taken on two more boys, Brandon Medina 14, and his brother Isaac, 12, both of whom say they want to become professional boxers- following in the path of Rivera and Pecina.
Barrientos and his assistant coach Arnie Rodriguez train on a voluntary basis and Barrientos has recently converted a large shed in his backyard into a gym using scrap wood, metal and other materials.
He says he has literally “dumpster dived.”
He has also picked up used weight equipment and fixed it so it can be used. He has made punching bags and put mirrors along two walls so boxers can see their form.
One board nailed up high on the wall is completely filled with medals won by Rivera, 15, known in the ring as “El Gallo Negro,” who just took the First Place Belt in the two-day Paul Murphy Championship in Doraville, Georgia.
A 9th-grader at Lennard High School, Rivera had also won in his category in National Championships in June. He originally started boxing in Homestead before moving to Hillsborough County.
In order to qualify for nationals, he had already won the 2012 Silver Gloves State Championship. Before that he had taken down the Georgia State Champion in the Regional Junior Olympics held in North Carolina.
“Luis has gone to a new level now and we are working on correcting his punches,” Barrientos said.
Meanwhile, Dec. 15, Pecina won First Place in the Tarpon Classic II. The 13-year-old attends Beth Shields Middle School and says he intends to stay serious about the sport.
With the help of parents and local sponsors, Barrientos continues to pull in new faces and teach them the sport and sportsmanship.
The Medina brothers, Brandon, 14, and Isaac, 12, are in their first month in training and already have a love for the ring. Both say they intend to pursue boxing as a career, at least for now.
Role modeling is very important to Barrientos. He says he wants the youths to learn more than how to fight.
“It is important to have different experiences, and to learn to lose well when you don’t win,” he said.
The coach and founder of the not-for-profit Ruskin Boxing Club has been known to aid young boxers he does not know when they arrive at a tournament without a trainer.
“It’s all about giving them something that will keep them in shape and build their character,” Barrientos said.