Perhaps the most famous boxing quote in history comes from the 1954 movie On the Waterfront, where prize fighter Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) tells Charley Malloy (Rod Steiger): “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.”
The Boys and Girls Club exists to give the kids it serves their best chance of being somebody, of being a contender, despite their sometimes desperate situations in life.
It’s appropriate, then, that one of the organization’s major fundraisers is Boxing in the Ballroom, scheduled this year, Aug. 22, in the Renaissance Worthington Hotel’s Grand Ballroom. The event features professional boxers provided by Paulie Ayala Productions. In its 15-year history, it has raised more than $2 million.
It also is a link to the organization’s past. “A lot of folks in town remember back in the ’50s and ’60s when the Boys and Girls Club — the Boys Club then — was the place to come to learn how to box,” says President and Chief Professional Officer Daphne Barlow Stigliano, who passed her eight-year anniversary in May.
Boxing in the Ballroom was the first professional boxing match she had ever attended. Although the Boys and Girls Club no longer provides boxing training for a variety of reasons, the mission still is to teach healthy lifestyles and fitness. It is one of the pillars of the organization. “We really want to encourage them to be active, and that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to do aerobics for 60 minutes,” she said. “They can play outside; they can play games; there’s lots of things we try to do to introduce fitness and health to our kids and still keep it fun.”
But Boys and Girls Club is much, much more than that. It is aimed at improving academic performance and literacy, as well as providing a safe haven for children whose parents are unable to afford more traditional after-school care. It serves more than 14,000 youth, ages 6-24 years old, through seven branches and nine gang-intervention sites in local schools and in the community.
“All of our physical buildings at least are located strategically in the areas of our city that need us the most, where the kids have the most challenges — whether that’s potentially a low-performing school, high rates of poverty and crime or low economic self-sufficiency. We’re really where we need to be to lend aid to the kids who need us the most,” Stigliano said. “But we also are in 40 different schools throughout our school district, so we’re also bringing services to where the kids are during the school day as well.”
The proof is in the numbers with 97 percent of club youth advancing to the next grade level on time and 93 percent expecting to graduate from high school.