he action was brisk as Roberto Beltran and Celso Pineda stalked one another inside the 20-foot by 20-foot boxing ring looking for an opening to deliver a blow.
Overseeing the action at the Marco Island Boxing Club was their coach and mentor Richie Stoltenborg, who offered up instruction as the teenagers moved, feinted and unleashed flurries, their sparring mate attempting to escape or block the blows.
“Straight punches now,” he said, as other youthful club members and a few adults looked on. “Get your head on either side. Good. Keep moving your head.”
The club has grown and changed in important ways since its formation a little over one year ago, said Stoltenborg, its founder and president.
One difference is physical, with a move to a larger, more accommodating space in the Marco Lake Drive building where operations began. Another difference is the level of participation in the club.
“Currently, I have about 40 kids in the program of all age,” said Stoltenborg, a detective with the Marco Island Police Department. “I even have an 81-year-old man that works out here. The kids and the adults, they mix in and work together.”
The youths hail from Marco, East Naples and the Naples Manor area and from diverse financial and social backgrounds.
“It’s all run on sponsorships and donations,” said Stoltenborg. “I don’t charge any kid under 21 a membership fee. I rely totally on donations and public support and fundraisers”
The Marco Island Moose Lodge recently held a fundraiser for the Boxing Club, generating about $2,000 for the nonprofit, which is dedicated to introducing youths to Olympic-Style boxing, while building character, self-discipline, work ethic and other positive qualities.
Held at the lodge’s Marco Lake Drive headquarters, a few steps from the club’s gym, the fundraiser included a pig roast, hamburgers and hot dogs, side dishes and an auction.
“The Marco Island Moose Lodge has been very gracious,” said Stoltenborg. “They offered to do a fundraiser, put a barbeque together for me, and invited the public. It’s for the kids and they’re doing a wonderful thing.”
Terry Wyatt, a member of the Marco Moose Lodge, said assisting youths is a priority for the organization.
“Anything having to do with children, we’re more than willing to participate in,” he said. “You’ve got to help the youth of America if you want to make things better.”
Money from the fundraiser will be used for bills, rent, replacing worn-out equipment, purchasing uniforms and to offset travel expenses, said Stoltenborg, who purchased the gym’s speed and heavy bags and the boxing ring out of his own pocket.
Boxing has been a lifelong passion for the New Jersey native, who co-founded the Dover Boxing Club, in Dover, N.J. in 1994, which is still in operation. He has coached in Golden Gloves and Diamond Gloves competitions and at the International level and he’s held three international boxing events on Marco over the last few years.
Stoltenborg’s youthful charges are working their way up to participating in Golden Gloves tournaments. Aside from training, they have been sparring with other nearby boxing clubs during the week, both here and at their locations, and local professional boxers also stop by the club to spar.
The teens are also taking part in what he called “one-night shows” to compile the number of fights necessary to take part in Golden Gloves matches. Those one-night shows are held on Saturdays and require travel to Bonita Springs, Fort Myers, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando.
“We travel quite a bit to get these kids some fights,” said Stoltenborg.
The group’s Golden Gloves debut will take place at a tournament set for March in Ft. Lauderdale.
Stoltenborg said his goals for the youths embrace improving the whole person and not their boxing skills.
“They gain confidence and self esteem, they make friends, it’s to make them men,” he explained. “A lot of these kids come from single-family homes and things like that and it’s a good outlet for them. They’ve got a lot of frustrations going on with school, peer pressure. We come in here. We let them get their frustrations out on the bag. They can work in the ring. It builds character, self esteem, control, anger management.”
Reycel Blanco, 15, a freshman at Lely High School, has taken to the club’s character-building aspect.
“We learn responsibility in the gym,” said the resident of the Trail Ridge development. “I like that I have a good coach and we have a good gym. He coaches us well and we win our fights and we’re going to keep pushing. We also learn hard work and education. ”
Danya Zarate, a senior at Marco Island Academy, is one of two teenage girls training at the club. She started coming to the gym in April, after it was recommended by some friends.
“I like it,” she said. “I play soccer and I run cross country so this is a whole different sport. I use my upper body strength a lot more and I’m not used to that. It works out the whole body.”
Zarate said she would definitely recommend the sport to other young women.
“It also teaches you self defense, it’s a good workout and you get to meet new people,” she said. “It’s fun.”