Young boxers find success at Laurel training facility

About one hour before his bout, amateur welterweight boxer Jefri Gutierrez, 20, laid on his back in a side training room at Crawford Training and Fitness on the ground floor of the Laurel Boys and Girls Club.

He rotated his right leg over his left leg and then reversed the process, under the watchful eyes of Ebrima Jawara, 21.

Minutes later Gutierrez, still on the padded floor, worked on neck exercises.

"Around, [now] opposite," encouraged Jawara, also a regular under the tutelage of long-time trainer Robert Crawford, who runs the Laurel boxing gym.

The early workout paid off Saturday afternoon as Gutierrez scored a three-round victory by decision in a special Boxing in the Park event held to highlight Crawford's training program.

Gutierrez landed a nice combination that put opponent Charles Mattison against the ropes in the final seconds of the two-minute third and final round.

Born in Nicaragua, Gutierrez was a toddler when his family moved to Maryland and for about two years he has been making the drive from his home in Gaithersburg to train with Crawford after his day job at a warehouse.

"I have always had to protect myself," said the 5-foot-7 boxer, who improved to 8-1 in his amateur career. "I used to get bullied a lot [in high school]. I come from a very low-income family. I want to go as far as God lets me" as a fighter," Gutierrez said.

The Oct. 12 Boxing in the Park, a partnership between Crawford's program and the Laurel Boys and Girls Club, was originally planned to be held outdoors on McCullough Field, but rain forced it inside. Boxers as young as 8 and up to young adults exhibited their talents to highlight youth activities, sportsmanship and community involvement by those who have trained through Crawford Training and Fitness.

"The purpose is that there are other things to do besides getting in trouble, like drinking and smoking," said Gutierrez, who wants to become a boxing trainer. "No matter where you come from, there are other things you can do. You always follow a dream; that is my goal here. No matter what happens, I just want to keep going."

The nine-card event drew more than 150 people to the indoor ring on an overcast day. The boxing facility has a rich history, with boxers such as former world champ Hasim Rahman of Baltimore and Silver Spring-native William Joppy among those who have trained with Crawford at the Laurel facility.

Two of Crawford's current pupils spared off against fighters from other clubs, and another Laurel winner was Touré Lake, 19, in his first bout as a novice, although Lake, a College Park resident and 2012 graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High in Greenbelt, said "I could have done better," after the bout.

Another of Crawford's top pupils, Laurel High freshman Andres Garibay, was not able to compete since his scheduled opponent did not show up. A former soccer player whose parents were born in Mexico, Garibay moved recently with his family from Bowie to Laurel and has been training with Crawford six days a week as a 125-pounder. He won the Golden Gloves at 115 pounds earlier this year at Palmer Park in Prince George's County.

"Boxing is different. It is just you and your opponent in the ring. In soccer sometimes you don't play because you are on the bench. I like to fight a lot [in the ring]. It is in my blood," said Garibay, who is a fan of Mexican boxer Canelo Alvarez. "My goal is to be a champion and be known. I want to go as far as I can."

Gutierrez, a Golden Gloves winner last year, feels Garibay has the skills to excel in the sport. "He has a lot of potential. He is very aggressive," Gutierrez said of Garibay.

A 'life-learning' experience

Several of Crawford's charges are first-generation Americans who dabbled in other sports before finding their way inside the ropes.

Jawara, 21, graduated from Gaithersburg High and is the son of parents from West Africa. He played soccer as a young boy but gravitated to boxing, first at a club in Gaithersburg and now with Crawford in Laurel.

Laid off four months ago from his landscaping job, Jawara is like many young boxers who see the sport as a way to keep focused and out of trouble.

"What I like about it is the progress you see. After a win or loss you can always see improvement, after any fight. It is a life-learning experience and it is self-discipline as well," Jawara said. "I used to get in trouble back in the day. That is why I come to the gym, to stay out of trouble. It keeps me humble."

So what is it like to fight under Crawford, who hopes one of his current charges can make the 2016 U.S. Olympic team?

"It is a great experience. He is smart. He is caring but he puts his hand down hard. He is someone who will push you to do better. He really opens up your eyes," Gutierrez said.

Among those in the crowd was proud Crawford alum Tony Jeter, a Laurel High graduate who now trains in Millersville and also promotes fights. Jeter trained regularly under Crawford in the 1990s and is ranked 12th in the WBC after he defended his title last May in Millersville against Victor Hugo Correa. Jeter, now married and with two young children, was named Boxing Along the Beltway's 2012 Boxer of the Year.

"If it hadn't been for this program he could have been a very different [outcome]. Now he is a successful husband, father and businessman and rated No. 12 in the world by a major boxing organization," Crawford said.

The Oct. 12 event brought back memories for Jeter, who gives Crawford a lot of credit for his success.

"This shows some of the talent to come out of here and give back to the community," Jeter said during the Oct. 12 matches. "This has helped me. I could have gone down the wrong path. I have been able to be a good part of society, if that makes sense."

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