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Not your average fight club

Hood River Boxing Club a hit with people of all ages

Feeling punchy?

Want to pick a fight without the broken noses, bloody knuckles or assault charges? Maybe you just want to blow off a little steam.

Whatever it is that has awakened your inner boxer, Hood River’s newest sports club may offer you the release you need.

But before you step into the ring, make sure you sign a release, because the Hood River Boxing Club boasts some pretty buff dudes — and dudettes.

“I was boxing with my cousin Diego and he made me really mad, so I punched him in the eye,” said six-year-old Xavier Mariscal as he showed off his deadly moves. “He cried and it made me feel tough.”

So Xavier went to his father, Santos, and asked if he could strap on a pair of gloves. Before Xavier could say “Muhammed Ali,” he was dancing around the ring at Club Rio with the 25 other club members.

“They actually beat each other up,” Santos said of Xavier’s initiation into the boxing world. “But he started watching matches with me at a very young age and has earned a respect for the sport.”

Like their son, Santos and his wife Maria are also new to the sport of boxing, both lacing up the gloves for the first time when the club began in November. But from the looks of it, both are natural-born fighters.

“I’ve been a boxing fan my whole life, and my family has a lot of history boxing in this area,” said Santos, whose three uncles — Joe, Al and Freddy Dominguez — were boxing club members during its first go-around in the mid-80s.

Al Dominguez still lives in the area and agreed to donate the original boxing ring to the club when he located it in a warehouse just last week.

“We’re glad we have it,” club coordinator Mike Castro said. “It really helps us do what we’re trying to do here, which is to some day hold tournaments against clubs from Portland, Eugene and Seattle.”

Castro hopes to raise enough money by spring to upgrade the ring so the club can hold amateur competitions. He said that before the ring can be used for competition, it will need more than $2,000 in upgrades, including a platform, foam layer and canvas.

“The biggest drawback is that boxing equipment is so expensive,” said Castro, who provides all the necessary items for practice such as gloves, head gear and punching bags.

“We’d like to find some local sponsors and try to organize rivalries between businesses. Safeway versus Rosauers, Nelson Tires versus Les Schwab, and so on,” he said.

Castro, who owns Club Rio, an all-ages dance club on Tucker Road, said he would also like to sponsor a little league baseball team as a way to give back to the community and gain recognition for the club.

“We want to be youth-oriented in everything we do,” he said. “Whether it’s boxing, dancing, aerobics or martial arts, we just want to give the kids something fun to do.”

Aerobics? Martial arts?

“If you have the room, you might as well use it,” said Nancy Edwards, a former aerobics instructor and newly certified boxing coach with the club.

Edwards, Castro and Gerardo Gonzalez have all earned USA Olympic Boxing certifications and teach students every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6-8 p.m.

Gonzalez is a former amateur fighter from Mexico City and offered to volunteer his services to the club so he could remain involved with the sport of boxing.

“Right now it’s just voluntary, but I hope it will some day be a full-time position,” he said. “For now, though, teaching boxing is a hobby. Just for fun.”

And that’s exactly the point of the Hood River Boxing Club — to have fun. But some students, like 11-year-old Donovan Cassady, have become involved to learn self-defense tactics as well as build confidence.

“I’d like to compete some day, but right now I’m just trying to get in shape,” said Cassady, a fifth-grader at May Street Elementary.

“I gain more confidence with every practice. My stance has improved and so has my delivery of punches. But it still kind of hurts to get punched in the head,” he said.

While much of the current membership is made up of students, the club also attracts many talented men and women like the Mariscals. And Castro is anxious to pit his talent pool against other Northwest boxing clubs.

“I can hardly wait to have a tournament here,” he said. “Once we upgrade the ring, we’ll start by having competitions between the local boxers and see where it goes.”

He said the tournaments have the potential to bring in a lot of money for the club and its sponsors. If the idea takes off, Castro may some day be able to purchase an actual competition-style ring (22 feet by 22 feet) for $7,500.

But before the club can host a tournament, it needs to build sponsorship and grow its member base. Club dues are only $30 a month, and membership with USA Olympic Boxing is $32 per year, which includes insurance.

For more information about the club, contact Castro at 503-332-5170, or Community Ed at 386-2055.

Even if you’re not a fighter, you may find yourself in the best physical shape of your life. If nothing else, learning how to box will toughen you up. Just ask Xavier Mariscal.

“It’s easy to beat people up when they don’t know how to box,” he said.

Spoken like a true champion.

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