Another one is lifting weights, and there is a group of youngsters slap boxing in a corner, bobbing and weaving and making noise, trapped in the shadows of the ring that swallows up half the space.
It is 5:30 on a Monday afternoon and the boxing program at the South Jamaica Police Athletic League Community Center is beginning to stretch its legs and take form. Every tough neighborhood in the city has a PAL, and this sleepy stretch of Guy R. Brewer Boulevard down a ways from York College is no different.
Affixed to the High School of Law Enforcement and Public Safety - the brainchild of former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, who opened the school a year ago for kids who want to be cops, district attorneys and firefighters - the PAL is across the street from the Baisley Park Houses, a hard stretch of concrete that dominates this leafy neighborhood.
Not an ordinary gym
It is a strange place to find Ricky Frazier and Eric Winbush, two ex-fighters who are used to flashier surroundings. Frazier runs the Jamaica PAL boxing program with Winbush as his assistant. The gym opened last February when the Parks Department converted the Flushing PAL and its boxing program into office space, leaving Queens without a PAL boxing site.
Now in its second year, the Jamaica PAL built the boxing gym in February, creating a gleaming white Rubik's Cube-shaped wood-paneled showroom more suitable for housing works of art than boxing equipment.
"I just hope that these kids realize that this is a state-of-the-art gym, and that they have two of the premier boxing coaches in the city training them," said Pat Russo, the PAL's director of boxing. "I hope they realize who these guys are."
Most of them don't. They walk into the gym with their parents trailing behind them, offering stories of why their kid needs to learn how to box.
"He gets picked on by his friends because he is the smart one," one mother says. "I want him to learn how to fight, so he can deal with the bullies."
"When we get done with him," Winbush begins, "he won't have to fight."
The mother, not expecting this sort of sound judgment, nods her head and is quiet. Winbush turns away and smiles.
"Tricky" Rick Frazier
It is difficult to stop fighting. The kids in the neighborhood are too young to have heard of "Tricky" Rick Frazier, a former police officer who used to wear his NYPD uniform into the ring with him when he fought. Frazier, who now wears dreadlocks at the age of 45, once battled a prime Roy Jones Jr. in 1999, losing by second-round TKO after he tore his right knee on a slip in the opening round.
The gym in Jamaica is a long way from the Civic Center in Pensacola, Fla., where Frazier fought Jones, but the memories of that fight are as fresh as the unspoiled paint on the walls.
"I was realistic," Frazier, who retired after the Jones fight, said recently at the PAL. "I was fighting Jones in his hometown on his birthday. I knew that I wasn't going to get a decision. My main concern was to make him look bad."
Instead, HBO boxing commentator Larry Merchant made him look bad, insulting Jones during the telecast for fighting an "off-duty" police officer and claiming Frazier lacked the necessary credentials to be in the ring with him even though Frazier compiled a record of 124-5 in the amateurs and won three New York Golden Gloves titles and three Empire State Games.
"HBO portrayed me as a bum," he said. "'Who is he?' My amateur record spoke for itself. Merchant was killing me."
Winbush also faced hurtful allegations, but with his fighting days well behind him, his tone is more measured when talking about his career that tasted defeat almost as much as it did victory.
He lost a decision to former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield in 1985 in Atlantic City and fought former light-heavyweight champions (Prince) Charles Williams and Matthew Saad Muhammad, losing a decision to Williams and knocking out Muhammad. His last fight was a loss on points to former cruiserweight champion Virgil Hill in 1986.
Winbush was sick when he fought Holyfield, a condition that resulted from fasting with his church for the first seven days of every month. He was sick again when he fought and beat Cornell "Bubba" Chavis for a No. 10 ranking.
"In the first round I saw that there was no speed on my jab, and I said to myself: 'Oh, lord,'" he said of the Holyfield fight. "Then my mind started clicking. I started feinting him and ducking, and soon I had him following me around the ring. My faith kept me from getting hurt."
But his faith couldn't protect him from accusations that he had taken a dive against Holyfield. His tepid performance sparked criticism in some corners that foul play was at hand.
"People knew I could fight," he said. "I tried to explain to them that I was sick with the flu, but they still thought I took a dive. It was crazy."
He retired in 1986 with a record of 14-12 (5 KO's) to satisfy his wife of 19 years, having been stopped just once. He never fought as an amateur and turned pro when he was 27, losing his first and third fights, then winning five in a row and then losing three in a row. At 52, he still gets in the ring to spar with the kids, but his wit is sharper than his diminished skills these days.
Relating to the kids
It is clear that Winbush has a gift for connecting with kids. The Cambria Heights resident volunteered his services at the Lost Battalion Hall in Rego Park following his retirement. He would train kids downstairs and run basketball tournaments upstairs. In between he conducted "sit-downs" with wayward youth, offering lessons that he learned growing up in the Roxbury section of Boston where his mother wouldn't let him box and where trouble was never far.
"I enjoy teaching kids," he said. "When they come in, they have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time. When I'm done with them they can walk and talk and do everything. I have a jovial spirit, and I always crack jokes with the kids to break the ice with them. Training can be hard, so I tell jokes to take their mind off the pain."
To support his wife and daughter, Winbush works as a warehouse supervisor in Maspeth. He volunteers his services at the Jamaica PAL like he did at the Lost Battalion, dividing his time between training and counseling kids who are in group homes and detention centers.
Winbush and Frazier met 19 years ago at Connie's Nights Community Center in Harlem, where Frazier was born and lived until he moved to Cambria Heights after the Jones fight in 1999. They remained friends and discussed the possibility of opening a gym together in Queens.
"I have so much knowledge in boxing," Frazier said. "Not to give it back would be a crime."
A change of scenery
Frazier retired from the NYPD in 2002 after 20 years on the force. He had worked in public relations and done undercover work in the Truck Burglary Unit, where he had posed as a garment truck driver at Bloomingdale's. He and his crew would take down thieves attempting to rob the trucks full of clothes. The work was fun and dangerous and partnered well with Frazier's boxing career, but after his retirement from the force - just three years after he stopped boxing due to injuries - a huge vacuum surfaced in his life. Frazier, who joined the police force after watching episodes of "Barney Miller," missed the camaraderie of both careers, and for a while he didn't know how to fill his time.
"I basically retired from boxing and the Police Department simultaneously," he said. "It was a major hit in my life. Jimmy Dolan (a retired cop and the PAL's sports director) asked me if I was interested in running a boxing program at the PAL. I thought he was pulling my leg, but this year when they opened the gym in Jamaica, he said it was mine."
Frazier, making good on an earlier conversation, asked Winbush to join him and now the two ex-fighters are attempting to turn the tiny boxing room - still big enough for a kid to dream - into a maker of champions.
"The walls are still kind of bare, but we'll try to fill them up with posters from when the kids fight in tournaments," Frazier said.
Added Winbush: "Every neighborhood has at least one champion."
Reach reporter Mitch Abramson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.
©2004 Community News Group
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