PAWTUCKET – Twenty students from Tolman High School with the eye of the tiger are learning the ropes inside the ring, as they are receiving some after-school education in the sweet science from a retired professional boxer who owns a gym just behind their school.
Retired pugilist and Lincoln resident Rich Gingras, owner of Fight 2 Fitness in Pawtucket, has operated the gym on Blackstone Avenue since May 2011. A former New England light heavyweight champion, Gingras started boxing at 23, saying that he was inspired to step foot inside the squared circle after watching the reality television show “The Contender.”
Gingras would eventually go on to participate in the show’s fourth season, which aired in 2008.
Gingras said that he suffered through a great deal of problems as a child, occasionally getting into trouble. Describing himself as “naturally just a tough kid,” he said that eventually those challenges during his youth turned him into the fighter he became – not one to lay back on the defensive and absorb the blows, but rather one who attacks and does not hesitate to throw the punches.
“That all piles on you,” he said, adding that he is hopeful that his classes can be the inspiration to the Tolman students that boxing was for him. “I had some really hard times.
I’ve gone through what they’ve gone through.”
Gingras said he never graduated from high school, and that he envisions the potential that pugilism has to offer on today’s youth.
“Boxing is a spark … This is an opportunity for me to change something about the way they live,” he said. “The goal is to help the kids. Once people realize what this does for the community, this will start to tip the kids in the right direction. It’s an investment in the youth.”
Tolman Assistant Principal Rich Perrotta explained that the genesis of the course came from School Resource Officer Jim Baino, who exercises at the gym. Baino reached out to Gingras and asked him to speak at a student assembly, and Perrotta said that Gingras’ message resonated with the students.
Perrotta said that the boxing lessons will provide students with after-school opportunities or healthy lifestyle choices. Rather than leaving school and going home to play video games or watch television, Perrotta said, the students will now be inspired to want to go to the gym and get exercise.
“A lot don’t play sports, so one to two hours here, I hope that changes things and gives them a different outlook and a healthy lifestyle,” he said.
Pawtucket Police Maj. Michael Newman said that the program to teach boxing technique Tolman students will eventually grow to also educate Shea High School students. He added that the program starts with 20 Tolman students from all four grades, who will participate in a one-hour class twice per week for four weeks.
By introducing the sport to Tolman and Shea students, Perrotta said, it will help to get the two sides of the city to unite and mend fences. Students will also learn self-responsibility and discipline, as they cannot get in any trouble in school or they will be kicked out of the program. They are also required to attend every class in school, which officials say will help them grow as people and students.
“It’s not teaching them to fight, it’s teaching them life skills and health,” he said. “One fight and you’re out. That’s the self-control.”
Baino said that unity and self-confidence is an integral part of the education the students will receive, as the inaugural class at Gingras’ gym are comprised of “a wide range of kids, some who struggle at school every day … Some were afraid to interact because of their social or economic backgrounds.”
“This is going to bring the whole school and all the cliques together,” Baino said, adding that in the future, “It’ll break down the barriers between the sides of the city, stop the violence, and bring Tolman and Shea together.”
School Superintendent Patti DiCenso said the partnership the Pawtucket School Department has with SROs continues beyond the school walls.
“The mentoring, guidance and exposure to other community partners by the SRO’s, fosters good citizenship for our students. These officers are kind, courageous and committed role models for Pawtucket youth,” DiCenso said. “Thank you to Fight 2 Fitness for extending this mentorship through fitness and good health.”
The benefits of this first group’s participation are already being seen, as Perrotta explained that about 40 students have additionally expressed interest in taking part in future courses. With a laugh, Perrotta said that after students return to school today and tell their classmates about what they learned Tuesday, “probably 80 to 100 will want to join.”
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