A long-time boxing gym, which has produced countless champions in and out of the ring, has been knocked on its heels by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Westbury Boxing Gym, which relies on private donations, is fighting to get off the financial ropes.
“None of the trainers, including myself, have ever been paid,” head trainer Kevin Collins said. “We believe in giving back to the community. This program not only gives back to the community, it gives the kids a fighting chance, creates a safe haven and keeps them off the streets and out of trouble. Boxing creates a tremendous amount of confidence which will be with them through the rest of their lives.”
Founded in 1987 by Pete Brodsky, the Westbury Boxing Gym has not only served the Westbury area, but boxers from all across Long Island. The gym does not charge fighters, every kid trains there for free. Collins, a former pro boxer who held the New York State welterweight title, has run the gym since he retired from the ring in 2001. Brodsky has retired and is living in Florida.
“Boxing was a huge part of my success in life, without it, I don’t know where I’d be,” Collins said, who lives in Bellmore and is a sanitation worker. “I owe everything that I have to this sport and to the trainers of my time.”
Collins is not the only former fighter to pay it forward at the gym. Several disciples of Pete Brodsky went on to train boxers after their own careers were over. Joe Gadigian, Matt Happaney, Jamie Drubin and Scott Lopeck all have worked with young fighters at the gym.
“I am exactly why these programs should be in place,” Gadigian said, who lives in Bethpage “Without Pete Brodsky and the Westbury Gym, we’re not having this conversation, I’m dead or in prison.”
Added Happaney, “We teach the art of boxing and also mentor everyone that comes through to the gym. We provide a comfortable place for all. This gym is a vital part of the community because we offer a safe place to go for kids and even adults.”
Over the years, the gym has produced world boxing champions such as Joe Manley and Rafael Williams. Many top pro fighters came out of the gym as well, such as Lopeck, Drubin (East Meadow), Freddie Liberatore, Willy Wise (Hempstead), Tommy Rainone (Hicksville), Mike Carbone (Levittown) and Cletus Seldin.
But the young men and women who exemplify the true value of the gym are the ones who had success away from the sport. Among the gym’s alumni are police officers, firemen, sanitation workers, lawyers, teachers and computer engineers.
Dilsia Bonilla is a perfect example. A pioneer in women’s boxing, she was trained by Drubin. She went on to win a New York Golden Gloves title and now she’s an officer with New York City Police Department (NYPD). Fellow fighters, Kenny Garcia is a U.S. Marine and Ray Noguera is in the National Guard as well as an officer with the NYPD.
Gadigian recalls two young men from Hicksville who turned their lives around solely because of the gym.
“For me Dave Santisteban and Paul Rello are prime examples of why this gym is important,” Gadigian said. “They were on the wrong side of the tracks and hanging out with the wrong people. But both of them turned their lives around through the sport of boxing. While they no longer box, both are doing very well in life and I am still in regular contact with them.”
There is a new generation of fighters training at the gym. Among the young pugilists are Ray Young, Kerry Dupervale, Austin Gibbons, Isiah Flaherty, Damian Knyba, Emmanuel Ettiene, Xavante Felton, Peter Lattore and Armani O’Brady.
“If these kids didn’t have a place to go to blow off some steam and ultimately find themselves, I don’t know where they’d be,” Collins said.
The gym was sponsored for years by former Nassau District Attorney Denis Dillon, who launched his Rising Stars program at the gym. Dillon passed away in 2010. Anyone wishing to help the gym and the young fighters can send donations to: Denis Dillon Cornermens Foundation, PO Box 261, Bellmore, NY 11710.
James Rowan in an Anton Media Group contributor.