Article from the Niagara Gazette 10/15/17
“I didn’t believe in myself yesterday. But now, I really do! This is a place for winners.
They want me here and I’m staying!”
BY STACEY SHEEHAN
Special to Lifestyles
Ray Casal has spent most of his life immersed in the sport of boxing. The Boxing Hall of Fame trainer navigates his Maryland Avenue Boxing Club in a confident, easy manner.
Stepping inside his gym on a Saturday morning, a visitor might notice the dozens of nostalgic photos paying tribute to the sport Casal has committed his life to teaching, or the distinct smell of rubber car tires. His commanding voice might be yelling “20 Jumping Jacks! Now! Let’s go! Let’s go!”
What may surprise a visitor is that Casal’s Saturday’s champs are small children. Wrapped, gloved and ready to go, they hang on his every word. Although some of these kids have not yet started first grade, they seem to understand that Casals’s Boxing Club is a safe place, a place of respect.
The kids at the club on Saturday morning, typically between the ages of 4 to 8, know they will be expected to work hard, and they appear to welcome it. They participate in timed rounds where they work on core strength, coordination, agility, drills and combinations. They run laps around the building, rain or shine. They lift, carry, flip and roll full-sized car tires as part of an obstacle course style training exercise and they are encouraged to beat their personal best times.
Where other trainers of Casal’s caliber might leave the children’s sessions to others to manage — that’s not an option for Casal. He has been described as dedicated, hands on and personally invested in every one he trains, regardless of their age or likelihood to wear a championship belt.
“Look, he’s the toughest guy I know, and he’s wrapping that little girl’s hand like it were made of glass and might break. That’s Ray. He treats these kids like they are his own.” remarked an on-looking parent.
“I love this class, this age group — maybe even the most,” said Casal who has dedicated his life to training people of all ages. The sincerity reflected in his eyes appears to be testimony to the life he has built in his community by doing what he loves most. “These kids work hard, they don’t give up and it’s not easy. Some teenagers, even adults, can’t get through this level of training.”
Casal’s club is inclusive. “These guys and girls here — even though they are of different ages or abilities, when they come here, none of that matters, We’re all in it together,” he continues, his eyes still on the group.
Champion’s built at Casal’s are both male and female, of varying ages, ethnicities and capabilities and comefrom a wide variety of backgrounds. There is no sense of shyness, arrogance or ego present, just a comfortable respect for one another. “They challenge themselves and learn what can happen if you work hard and the best part is, look at them,” he said, pointing to the ring, a boyish grin on his face. “It’s hard, really hard and they still have fun doing it.”
The skills being taught at the club are important to parents who sign their kids up. “Sure, it’s great exercise for the kids here. They are building strength and endurance and it’s fun ... but it’s also a good first step in learning how to protect themselves in the event they ever have to. Look at that girl there in the gray, she’s what? Seven? See that jab? She’s tough! No one is pushing her into a locker any time soon,” chuckled one observing father.
The coaches seem to get as much as the kids do. “It’s so fulfilling for me. Seeing the reluctant child come in shy and leave with a new found confidence.” says Nick Peters, a volunteer coach. He’s been active at the club a little over six years now and brings his own children along — the youngest of which is his six-year-old daughter Layla. The training seems to make a difference in the lives of the little boxers. “I didn’t believe in myself yesterday. But now, I really do!” said a first grade boy and newcomer to Casal’s. “This is a place for winners. They want me here and I’m staying!”
Stacey Sheehan is a contributing writer from Lewiston. After visiting Casals for this story, she signed up her young son, Liam, 6, for lessons.
Ray Casal works with a little boxer on a recent Saturday morning at his club on Maryland Avenue.
Ray Casal wraps the hand of a young boxer at his Maryland Avenue studio. Casal, a member of the Buffalo Veteran Boxers Association Ring 44 Hall of Fame, trains males and females, young and old, and even children, including those ages 4-8 who work out at his club on Saturday morning.