By Jean DePlacido
---- — Five Salem High students will take part in an amateur boxing show at the high school this Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
The show is presented in conjunction with West End Gym in Lowell, which was made famous by the “The Fighter,” a movie about the life of Mill City champion boxer Mickey Ward.
West End Gym owner Arthur Ramahlo has been very generous to the young Salem boxers, who have been working hard to prepare for their bouts. Sean McLaughlin, a social studies teacher at Salem High, heads up the program for at-risk kids.
“The boys are very excited to finally be able to put on a show in front of their hometown crowd,” said McLaughlin. “Most of them have fought in either Golden Gloves or Silver Mittens. As far as I know, this is the first time there’s ever been a boxing show at the high school.
“The program was started by Marine ROTC instructor David Flores, who asked me to get involved because I am an Army Lieutenant Colonel. I took it over when Flores left two years ago. It’s designed for at-risk kids to keep them on the right track and in school.”
McLaughlin said the young boxers work on drills and skills at Salem High in an area next to the main gym where speed bags and other equipment have been set up. They also travel to Lowell once a week for organized sparring.
“I’ve been boxing for the last six months,” said Jhonny Portes, a junior at Salem High. “My friends told me about how good the program was, so I decided to give it a try.
“Boxing is one way to help me stay in school. I’m looking forward to this show because it’s a good chance for the community to see what the program is about. We put a lot of work into what we do, and I know it will pay off.
Portes said the program began with 20 boxers, but only seven have kept it up. It’s the sacrifice and commitment to the sport that keeps them involved by working out three days a week after school, in addition to going to the YMCA and working out together as a group.
“We have to do road work and a lot of things on our own. That takes a lot of self-discipline, but I know the work I do outside the ring will help my stamina,” said Portes. “Boxing is teaching me self-discipline that I’ll need to use in other things. I want to keep boxing after I finish school.”
The five Salem High boys in the show will compete against boxers from the West End Gym. Riqui Pacheco will fight at 132 pounds, Charles Espinal at 154 lbs., Zamy Urena at light heavyweight (178 lbs.), Jonathan Santiago at 110 lbs., and Portes at 123 pounds. Urena graduated last year and fought in Golden Gloves, but the rest are current SHS students.
Espinal was last year’s New England Jr. Middleweight Silver Mittens champion.
McLaughlin, who did some boxing in the Army, coached football when he started teaching in Salem. He contacted Ramahlo, a gentleman in his 80s, who told him not to worry about money.
“Our main objective is to get these kids through high school,” said McLaughlin. “Mr. Ramahlo has been fantastic; he waived the gym registration fee ($75 per person), and I would estimate over the last couple of years costs have run over $2,000. We bring 6-8 kids there each month.
“Many of these kids are new to the country, and boxing is a big part of the culture in their native lands. A lot of the sports offered (at the high school level) don’t appeal to these kids, but they know all about boxing and follow it closely.”
McLaughlin and his boxers also want to give back to the West End Gym, and proceeds will go to Ramahlo in thanks for all his help and support. Tickets can be purchased at Howling Wolf Mexican Restaurant on Lafayette Street in Salem and at the high school. They will also be sold at the door on Saturday night.