May 6, 2013

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

April 26, 2013 Pohnpei, FSM -Fists flew and blood flowed at tonight's Pohnpei Boxing Club exhibition at the dimly lit Pohnpei Islands Central School gymnasium. The exhibition started at 5:30 pm with members shadow boxing, punching on the two sets of "focus mitts" the club currently owns, and sharing its two punching bags.

The equipment that the club currently owns was donated by Dongwon Industries at the request of their employee, Jung-hee Yoon who goes by the English name of "Hugo".

In November of last year Hugo told The Kaselehlie Press that he wanted to help Pohnpei young people "to keep a healthy mind, body, and the brilliant futures from confidence," by sharing his love of boxing.

Concerned that the program would be overwhelmed with participants, sports authorities in Pohnpei identified 20 trainers who were to have begun training on November 5 at the Pohnpei Youth Center. The idea was that the trainers, after they were trained, would be able to train up and coming boxers.

It didn't work exactly as planned because the identified trainers were inconsistent in their attendance. Other experienced boxing trainers stepped in to help Hugo train possible competitors for regional competitions with an eye toward the lofty goal of sending some competitors to the 2016 Olympic competition. When Hugo leaves Pohnpei to take on another assignment for his employer, he will leave three trainers to train 18 male boxers and seven female boxers.

The Pohnpei Boxing Club has filed an application for non-profit status and has been applying for grants to keep the sport alive in Pohnpei.

"We have three more years as a goal to train and get both male and female members ready to compete as amateur boxers in the 2016 World Olympics," Erick Divinigracia wrote in an email. "It's a lofty goal, but one that is attainable as long as we have support from the community and other organizations."

Divinigracia, who is an attorney at the law firm of Ramp and Mida said that he learned about the boxing program when he read the November article in The Kaselehlie Press. He previously trained in Bellevue, Washington before he moved to Pohnpei last summer. "With no boxing gym on the island, it was a great relief to read that Hugo, with help from his employer, Dongwon Industries and the Pohnpei Sports Authority and FSM National Olympic Committee were starting this project to introduce the sport to Pohnpei," he wrote.

"The membership has increased and the participants' skills have improved faster than I could ever have imagined," he wrote. Divinagracia is now the head trainer and the treasurer for the Pohnpei Boxing Club. He has had experience training boxers with all sorts of experience, from beginners with absolutely no skills to national Olympic finalists. "One thing that I have found that separates the kids from Pohnpei to people back home," he wrote, " is that they all generally have this inherent natural power when they punch! Power in boxing is one of the greatest assets a boxer can have and is the one skill that cannot be taught no matter how much you train. It is something that you are born or raised with. So whatever Pohnpeian mothers are feeding their kids, its working!"

Kenneth Welles, the President of the Pohnpei Boxing Club is also a trainer. He learned to box during his time in Wilmington, North Carolina. "Right now there are just three of us. We're hoping that we can attract some adults who want to learn to box and to train other boxers."

He also said that the Pohnpei Boxing Club is open to everyone of all ages and skill levels. Gorman Booth, Junior is the Vice President of the club. Welles said that Booth is learning the sport and helps with the training as well.

The club has high aspirations and it is obvious from talking to the officers of the club that excitement is also high. If the exhibition this evening is any indication, the young people who are training as boxers are also very enthusiastic. They have a long way to go, and a good deal of discipline that needs to be learned but they are certainly working hard.

The sky is the limit, or at least it will be if the club can overcome their one limiting factor-the lack of equipment. The Dongwon Industries donation went a long way toward getting the boxing program started but more is needed.

Divinigracia said that currently the 30 active members must share three pairs of boxing gloves, two pairs of training gloves, two sets of head gear, two set of focus mitts, two punching bags and two jumping ropes. "The boxing club's biggest concern is the safety and health of its participants. Each of the members should have at the very least, their own gloves, mouth guards and hand wraps, which only a handful who have trained abroad possess."

The organization has filed for non-profit status and has begun to seek grants. They've written two grant applications so far. One of them seeks assistance to purchase more equipment and to purchase a boxing ring. Right now, the boxers train and spar on a concrete floor. They've written another grant application in order to help renovate the Pohnpei Youth Center in Dolonier, which is where the boxers train.

Though they have written grant applications that will be helpful, the club will need community support. Even if they do get new equipment they will need material to hoist and hang the equipment and mount them on the building. They will also need financial support if they are to take boxers to regional competitions as they prepare Olympic hopefuls.