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Local crowd takes swing at Olympic glory


Charles Mooney peers through the ring ropes watching his middleweight protege, Jimmy Lange, apply the finishing touches to Kevin Dent in the second round of an amateur bout at the Arbutus Fire Hall.

As Lange's hand is raised in victory, Mooney says: "It's all part of a big dream. All these kids picture themselves with an Olympic medal hanging around their neck."

Mooney knows the feeling. Representing the U.S. Army, he won a silver medal in the 1976 Olympic Games.

"I really never thought I'd get that far," said Mooney, now retired from the military and training amateur and professional boxers in Rockville. "I'd only had about 25 amateur fights, but I kept winning tournaments and box-offs until I found myself in the Olympics. That's why I can sell the dream to these kids."

A wasteland for amateur boxing only a few short years ago, the South Atlantic region of USA Boxing, which encompasses all of Maryland save for Prince George's and Montgomery counties, has grown rapidly under new president Leo Schumacher. In the past two years, registration of amateur boxers in the region has jumped from 105 to 248.

"With the Olympics coming up, they all come out of the woodwork. By next year, I predict we'll have 400 fighters signed up," said Schumacher, who hopes to stage January's regional championships in Baltimore.

The demand for training space has led to new boxing gyms in Baltimore, Arbutus, Annapolis, Salisbury and Edgewood, raising the number of South Atlantic gyms to 12.

But until two years ago, when Eddie Sauerhoff began promoting amateur cards at Teamsters Hall, area fighters mainly competed in Washington tournaments, where the Potomac Valley Association governs the amateurs.

"If you took one of your kids down to Washington," said Mack Lewis, dean of the Baltimore trainers, "usually the only way you could win was by a knockout."

Judging has become less provincial in recent years, with amateur boxers now routinely traveling between Washington and Baltimore.

Danny Kisner is the new kid on the block, promoting semi-monthly shows in Arbutus, but he is hardly a novice to the fight game.

On this particular night, Kisner's show was reduced to six bouts when a car carrying four fighters from Wilmington, Del., broke down on Interstate 95. But Kisner shrugged and went on with the show.

"I learned a lot about surviving by helping my father [Max Kisner] promote professional fights," he said. "I was a matchmaker by the time I was 22. But I really love training fighters and watching them develop."

One of those he's watched is Moe Rites, a 25-year-old featherweight with a passion for boxing. Rites has won six of seven fights, relying on a relentless offensive style.

A construction worker who owns a boxing, strength and fitness club in Arbutus, Rites has set a backbreaking daily schedule with only one goal in mind -- a trip to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

"I eat, sleep and train to fight," said Rites.

"My girlfriend, Stephanie, wakes me at 5 every morning so I can do my roadwork before I go to my job. As soon as I finish work, I'm back in the gym, lifting weights and sparring. It will all be worth it when I make it to the Olympics."

The odds are astronomical. Amateur boxing is influenced by politics almost as much as the professionals.

USA Boxing, the parent organization, picks about 30 fighters -- maybe three per weight class -- to train under its coaches at the Olympic facility in Colorado Springs, Colo.

They are groomed for the Olympics by fighting international competition in dual meets and in the Pan American Games and World Cup.

Among the chosen is Baltimore middleweight Dana Rucker, a converted kick-boxer from Champs Athletic Club who won a boxing scholar ship to Northern Michigan University.

For an outsider to make the U.S. Olympic squad, he must win the regionals, the nationals and survive a box-off against open class fighters with far more experience.

Among the South Atlantic's top Olympic hopes are Lange; Rites; heavyweight Lonnie Smith, a Towson State graduate fighting out of the Laurel Boys Club; and George Greenlee, a super-middleweight representing Champs Athletic Club off North Avenue.

"I'm going to be the surprise guy," said Greenlee, who is unbeaten in 10 bouts and learned to fight while serving in the Job Corps in South Carolina.

"For me, making the Olympics isn't a dream; it's a mission."

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