Hill District boxing gym offers ‘hope’
In May, the Centre Avenue YMCA boxing gym was abandoned and in disrepair.
The building was a dusty, paint-chipped memory of a gym that once served the Hill District proud and hosted boxing greats like Sugar Ray Robinson, Jack Johnson, Jackie Wilson and Pittsburgh’s Billy Conn.
On Wednesday, the gym exuded optimism for the Hill District, and it wasn’t just the new “Hope” sign hanging 10 feet above the floor.
A new boxing ring, fresh paint and new equipment were unveiled to the community during a ribbon-cutting ceremony that capped a four-month project.
“Boxing is part of the history in the Centre Avenue YMCA and the Hill District,” said Aaron Gibson, executive director of the Centre Avenue YMCA and Thelma Lovette YMCA. Gibson was joined at the ceremony by Western Pennsylvania Police Athletic League executive director Jimmy Cvetic.
“What Jimmy and I wanted to do is bring that back,” Gibson continued. “And I think now with everything going on in our community, we need something to help these kids.”
Cvetic, longtime owner of the Third Avenue Gym, said he was able to secure the Centre Avenue YMCA’s new boxing ring from Antoine Fuqua, director of the boxing movie “Southpaw,” filmed in Pittsburgh this summer.
“A lot of people covet money,” Cvetic said. “I covet boxing rings. It’s a sickness.”
He added that the new gym will go a long way in setting standards for kids. He wrote principles like “honor,” “pride” and “respect” on a stone that will remain in the gym.
“We’re going to send a message,” said Cvetic, looking at the “Hope” sign above the ring. “I love that word because in the next horizon, I’ll be gone, but these kids have to have new horizons. And they have to have hope and teach fidelity and integrity and love.”
Cvetic introduced local fighters he said he believes uphold those principles, including recently crowned USBA welterweight champion Sammy Vasquez Jr. of Monessen and Pittsburgh’s Amonte Eberhardt, a WPAL Golden Gloves champion who leaves for the Navy next week.
But for the foreseeable future, Cvetic entrusts another Golden Gloves champion, coach Darren Dolby, to uphold those principles. Dolby started coaching at the Third Avenue Gym in 2003 at the urging of another coach and hasn’t stopped.
“I kept seeing kids get killed on TV, and I said, ‘Position me somewhere where I can help out the kids.’ So God put me in the gym,” Dolby said. “Ever since then I’ve been in the gym working with kids.”
Dolby said he considers his fighters his “boxing sons.” He takes their 3 a.m. phone calls, and he gushes — as he did Wednesday — when he talks about the kids he has seen get their college degrees. He’s happy to continue being that influence.
“I’m just very grateful for everybody coming out to help make this thing come together like it did,” Dolby said. “We’re going to put this gym on the map.”
Andrew Erickson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.