Planned PAL activity will pack a punch; Father-son duo hope boxing will keep teens out of worse scrapes


At age 8 months, Maxell J. Taylor learned how to walk. Now, at age 15, he wants to teach other kids how to dance like professional prizefighters.

The Edgewood teen-ager and his father, also named Maxell Taylor, are organizing a boxing program for the new Police Athletic League center to be built in their area. Father and son -- they have different middle names -- say the program will offer a welcome diversion for teen-agers in an area where there are few activities.

A National Junior Golden Gloves champion with more than 175 fights under his belt, the younger Taylor says he wants to train the youths in his neighborhood in the art of boxing to keep them away from battles involving drugs and gang violence.

"My dad started me doing it to keep me out of trouble and keep me occupied," said Taylor, a sophomore at Edgewood High School. "Kids need positive stuff to do."

Edgewood, a 15-square-mile mix of residential and commercial buildings along U.S. 40 in the shadow of Aberdeen Proving Ground, has struggled for years to emerge from the shadow of crime and drug use. Housing developments have sprung up where dilapidated homes once stood, and strip malls with streetscape face lifts now share space with new chain stores.

But amid the renovation and renaissance, many in the community of about 24,000 have complained about the lack of a community center and a wholesome outlet for teen-agers.

"It doesn't have a place for people," said Joan Morrissey Ward, who was recently named program manager for the Edgewood Revitalization plan by Harford County Executive James M. Harkins. "It's really lacking that center where the children could go and the community could meet."

A temporary PAL Center -- operated by the Maryland State Police -- has opened in the Edgewater Village Shopping Center on U.S. 40, with plans for a 14,000-to-18,000-square-foot, $1.5 million center on county-owned land in Edgewater Village.

Morrissey Ward said Taylor's boxing program will be a welcome addition to homework clubs and video games.

"It really will be a nice place for these kids who may need a bit more structure," she said. "I like to say it will give them 'a different definition of cool.' "

The younger Taylor knows about the bravado that passes for cool in his community.

"A lot of people in my area do drugs and stuff," he said. "Most people are scared to fight me, but I know how tough it can be."

A wiry young man with respectful speech and an almost shy manner, he dreams of opening his own recreation center when he grows up. It's fun, he said, teaching younger children.

It's also an ethic he learned from his father. The elder Maxell Taylor said he started teaching his son the rudiments of boxing when the boy was a toddler.

A boxer while in the Army, Taylor boxed in the Olympic trials in 1980 and fought in a national tournament in Germany in 1987. Boxing, he says, is going to help his son carve out a better future.

"He could get a scholarship," said Taylor, who acts as his son's trainer and works in maintenance at Aberdeen High School. "Some of the high school students have problems and they don't know as much about life as they think they do. Boxing is an individual sport where you have to be disciplined."

On a recent evening, Taylor lovingly helped his son, whom he calls "Butch," don gloves at Burdyck's Gym near Aberdeen. Dressed in yellow from tank top to boots, the younger Taylor stepped into the ring to spar with John Gradowski, 51, who outweighs him by more than 100 pounds.

Swift punches followed, with Taylor bobbing and weaving as he rocked Gradowski. After the fight, a slightly winded Gradowski reflected on Taylor, whom he calls "one of the best."

"His dad is a good trainer, and Butch is a great kid with a wonderful attitude," said Gradowski, who referees and judges fights throughout the state. "Boxing gets a bad rep, but it's one of the few sports where you can teach a youngster courage."

John Burdyck, owner of the gym, agreed. With the popularity of kick-boxing exercise tapes and pay-per-view fights, Burdyck said he has about 60 students who pay $70 a month for boxing or kick-boxing lessons.

"It builds up your self-esteem," Burdyck said. "It's a really great stress release, and it does keep people off the street."

While he waits for the funding to come through for the new PAL Center, the younger Taylor continues to train and fight. His goal is to make it to the Olympics and maybe become as good as his favorite boxers, "Too Sharp" Johnson, Roy Jones Jr. and George Foreman, whom he met a few years ago at a gym in Washington.

He'll also help train his 8-year-old brother, Emanuel, a 65-pound paperweight who has participated in 14 fights. It will be good practice for his role at the new PAL Center.

"I just want to help," Maxell Taylor said quietly, before heading off to the punching bag.

Pub Date: 9/26/99

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