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Thom Loverro: Boxing gym brings soul to tattered neighborhood in Northeast D.C.

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Sports,Thom Loverro

There is a Jimmy Cagney movie taking place on Mount Olivet Road NE near Montello Avenue in Washington.

It involves a boxing gym, a retired, respected police officer turned trainer and a social worker -- all trying to save the poor kids of this city.

All that's missing is the priest.

Tony Bell has opened a gym in a great space in a key area of the city, a place where they hope that change is going to come and that this boxing haven is the bridge for that change.

"This could be an anchor for this neighborhood," Bell said. "I've had people tell me since this gym has been here these corners have changed tremendously for the better."

Sean Tuohey, who works for the Metropolitan Police Department designing and implementing youth-crime prevention strategies, looks at the old brick building and sees a boxing gym promoting peace.

"This gym is so pivotal to what is going on in this neighborhood and what MPD is trying to do," Tuohey said. "It's neutral territory, sitting between three high-crime spots -- Ivy City, Langston and Trinidad."

It's also an area that is going through changes, like other parts of the city, a place where money is starting to flow. Bell sees the gym not only as a place to help kids but also a blue-collar workout experience for professionals as well.

They envision Tony's Boxing Gym as a self-defense community center. Bell, who had an impressive resume working as a self defense instructor with local police departments and other agencies, is advertising self-defense classes with a flier that proclaims, "Learn to cause pain."

Of course, one of Bell's goals and Tuohey's hopes is that they can relieve some of the pain kids in troubled places live with. They hope it can be place to divert troubled kids away from detention centers.

"The kids who grow up in these neighborhoods grow up not even knowing why they are at war with their neighbors," Tuohey said. "But this is a neutral spot, and everywhere boxing works, the kids love it."

All this is in the early planning stages. Bell and Tuohey believe they have a gift here to give to the city. That gift was provided by former ANC commissioner and businessman Robert Siegel, who saw the potential for a gym and invited Bell, who has operated several workout gyms in the area over the years, to set up shop.

Bell is hoping to create a place where both kids and elders can work out. A neighborhood place without juice bars and yoga mats but with soul -- authentic Washington.

And a place with hope.

"These kids don't have hope," Bell said "When they start boxing, they began thinking, 'Hey, maybe I can do something, be good at something -- Golden Gloves, USA tournaments.'

"Sometimes a kid just needs a break," Bell said. "This could be the place where he gets it."

Examiner

columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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