Camden youth boxing gym finally opens

Boxing instructor Clement Bethea leans over to help Treshon Dumas, 13, with calisthenics at the North Camden Community Center. Camden hired Bethea to run the youth boxing program. Youths will not be allowed to spar but will learn discipline.
Boxing instructor Clement Bethea leans over to help Treshon Dumas, 13, with calisthenics at the North Camden Community Center. Camden hired Bethea to run the youth boxing program. Youths will not be allowed to spar but will learn discipline. (APRIL SAUL / Staff)
Posted: July 03, 2013

After two years of repairs and various delays, the boxing gym at the North Camden Community Center is officially open for training.

Monday marked the first day of Camden's new boxing program, as well as the city's pools and the "Ball'n for Peace" basketball league.

The boxing ring, which features shiny new padding and the city's crest imprinted in the middle, will be open weekday afternoons for youths ages 10 to 18 who want to learn boxing techniques.

New gloves and other boxing equipment were still neatly wrapped inside a closet Monday morning. The items were purchased as part of the gym's $237,000 renovation.

The young boxers won't be sparring, though, since the city has a no-contact policy. The program will focus mainly on teaching discipline and respect, said Clement Bethea, who was hired as the city's boxing coach.

Bethea, 31, learned to box in that very gym years ago under the guidance of Dave Parker and Chris Williams. He is now a social worker with the state Office of Mental Health and wants to teach city youths the discipline he learned in the ring.

"They have to humble themselves to learn," Bethea said. "You can't go in as a hothead."

The opening of the gym was more bitter than sweet for Williams, a longtime Camden boxing coach.

Williams ran the Camden Boxing Academy at the North Camden center for 15 years. He and his program were moved out of the facilities in 2011 while the community center received a face-lift.

The city used some Community Development Block Grant money to complete the $1 million project, which includes the boxing ring and a new basketball court.

The basketball court opened last summer just as the boxing ring was ready to be assembled. But the roof was leaking in the boxing gym area, and that led to a full year's delay.

Over the last two years, Williams drove some of the teenagers he coached in North Camden to a boxing gym in Pennsauken. One of them, Vidal Rivera, a South Camden 21-year-old who works at the Camden Children's Garden, competed in the Golden Gloves national amateur boxing championship this year.

Williams expected to teach boxing again once the North Camden gym opened. He was shocked to hear that the city had bypassed him and given the job to Bethea.

"That's terrible," Williams said Monday when told by a reporter of the city's choice. "I ordered all the equipment. . . . I've been there 15 years."

City spokesman Robert Corrales said Bethea had approached officials in the Department of Human Services and outlined a plan to run a summer boxing class. The city is not required to put out a Request for Proposal for programs under $3,000, Corrales said.

After announcing the opening of the boxing gym Monday, Mayor Dana L. Redd dipped her feet in the North Camden center's pool as she watched several kids jump in.

The city's two pools - North Camden and the Isabel Miller Community Center in Centerville - are open Monday through Friday during the summer.

For information on the city's community centers, visit http://bit.ly/16Klpzb.


Contact Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917, cvargas@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @InqCVargas. Read her blog, "Camden Flow," at www.inquirer.com/camden

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