At age 12, Marvin W. McDowell Jr. needed direction in his life, so he turned to fighting.
The West Baltimore youth joined a city boxing program, which taught him discipline and dedication. He became an amateur boxing champion, winning six South Atlantic Amateur titles in the 1970s. He earned his way into the Maryland Boxing Hall of Fame three years ago.
McDowell, 37, wants to give the same opportunity to city youths by opening an innovative community center in West Baltimore. In a program that would combine mentoring, tutoring and athletics, teachers would volunteer to help youths with their studies and monitor their academic progress while the youths receive boxing training.
"We want to use the boxing program as a draw to bring the kids in," McDowell said. "Once we get them in, we can educate them."
The proposed program, which boxing advocates say is needed in the neighborhood, has been run into a corner by community opposition.
McDowell and his partners, Tyrone Sol and William Chavis, withdrew an application to the city zoning board yesterday for permission to open a boxing club in the 1500 block of N. Fulton Ave. McDowell's attorney, Robert Jay Kessler, said he wants to revamp the proposal and work with the community to find a suitable location.
Tina Thompson, president of Fulton Community Association Inc., which includes the area bordered by North Avenue, Lafayette Avenue, Monroe Street and Mount Street, said she is not against the idea of the center, but opposes the proposed location.
"That's a residential neighborhood," Thompson said.
Thompson and other neighborhood representatives will meet with McDowell's camp, starting today, to discuss alternatives to house the program.
One problem, McDowell said, is that he has leased the two-story building. And he and his partners have spent thousands of dollars fixing up the former auto parts store and transforming it into a learning center and boxing gym. Sol, who held three jobs to help raise money for the renovations, did much of the work himself.
They've set up a ring, hung heavy and speed punching bags and installed other equipment. They made room for 20 computers, which are at Scope, an after-school tutoring program the partners run in Reservoir Hill, Sol said.
Now, they need to nail down a home for the center.
Paul Lazzati, registration chairman for the South Atlantic Amateur Boxing Association, which oversees 12 gyms in the state, said the center would be a community asset. It would be the association's only member facility to combine education and boxing, he said.
Danny Kisner, owner of the Brooklyn Boxing Club in South Baltimore, said boxing is an alternative to city street life. He said training has kept many of the 16 youths at his club out of trouble.
"I'm sort of like their baby sitter and coach," Kisner said. "For a lot of kids, that's all they got."
James Jones, 35, who would be a trainer at the proposed center, said boxing has saved him from many scrapes. When he entered the ring at age 14, Jones said, he had been getting into "neighborhood trouble," stealing bikes and street-fighting.
He found guidance and structure in boxing, he said. "I had somewhere to focus the energy in my life. I didn't get into trouble."
The boxing-learning center would be open to "anyone who is old enough to learn," McDowell said. Depending on income, participants might have to pay a monthly fee. To join what McDowell said will be a structured and intensive boxing program, participants would have to pay about $25 a month to cover insurance.
Pub Date: 1/20/99