Young Fighting Irish Return to Washington, D.C.

On Saturday, April 17, 2010, the Westin hotel, located at 1400 M Street, NW in Washington, D.C., will once again host the third annual Belfast-Beltway Boxing Classic — an international amateur athletic boxing competition where select youth, ages 11–17, from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Washington, D.C. will box each other at a fundraising dinner.  The event is supervised by the Potomac Valley Association to ensure that the young contestants are matched up evenly based on age, weight and experience, and there will be 10 matches of 3 rounds each.

Over two hundred people attend the yearly charity event and the money raised is donated to or used to buy equipment for amateur athletic clubs that offer after-school programs and keep at-risk kids off the streets.  Over the past couple years, local clubs benefitting have included Supreme Defence, Sugar Ray Leonard, NOMIS Youth Academy and Diamonds N The Ruff.  In 2009, the proceeds also helped sponsor an English club, Spennymore Boxing Academy, to bring a group of amateur boxers to the United States for a similar athletic exchange experience.

By bringing at-risk youth into boxing gyms, they are able to use boxing as a safe and structured physical outlet to duke out their aggressions amicably in a ring rather than in the streets of our cities.  The sport in turn increases the children’s self-esteem and gives them a sense of purpose and hope that they can fight their way out of the troubled socio-economic environments they live in.  In Belfast, many children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from the long political conflict, and in Washington, D.C., most of the clubs are situated in areas where crime is prevalent.  Boxing clubs in both cities provide a safe haven for the kids so that they don’t become a product of the criminal system themselves.

Eanes Keenan, Head Trainer at the Ardoyne Holy Cross Amateur Boxing Club (AHC) in North Belfast, commented on the positive effect that such an opportunity has on the participants.  “In times past, the children of Belfast were at the center of the political dispute; now our children are at the center of change.  Through the amazing cultural exchange in Washington, D.C., they have been given a chance to see other youths attempting to overcome similar challenges – not caused by religious differences, but by the blights of poverty and drugs in their neighborhoods.  The only fighting our kids do now is in the gym where it belongs.”

Tai Rhan McBride, Head Coach of Diamonds N the Ruff, concurs.  “The Belfast-Beltway Boxing Classic has been a tremendous venue for the Diamonds N the Ruff Mentorship and Boxing program, which is newly sponsored by the Prince George’s County, Md., Department of Parks, Recreation, Sports, Health & Wellness Division.  Since the first event in 2008, our youth have succeeded in becoming great role models and students in our local community.  Many of our youth have recently made Honor Roll and learned the balance of boxing and the importance of academics.  The Belfast-Beltway tournament is one of our favorite events of the year and everyone is looking forward to engaging again on April 17th.  We now see how what we do in our daily routine can impact a greater stage across the world.  Our kids engaged with athletes from different cultures and boxing venues, and found out that we are more alike than different.”

The Belfast-Beltway Boxing Project was born when Emmanuel Quinn, bar manager at Bobby Van’s, decided to get some friends together to create this event, having been inspired by the work his father Charles Quinn had done in the tough neighborhood of Ardoyne in North Belfast, where he grew up.  Charlie Quinn founded the AHC in Belfast in 2003 as a way to get the youth off the streets and safe from the after-effects of the sectarian conflict that has afflicted Northern Ireland.  At the time he began the club, he noted that the suicide rate among the children and teenagers in Belfast was the highest it had ever been, as the city struggled to recover from the longstanding religious conflict.  Charlie started the club in the basement of the Holy Cross church, where a young lad had hanged himself from the scaffolding, and today more than 150 kids belong to that gym.

In January 2008, Emmanuel Quinn decided to bring a group of youth boxers, drawn from both Protestant and Catholic clubs in Belfast to Washington, D.C. to box against local kids at a fundraising dinner to benefit participants in both, and the tradition of the Belfast-Beltway Boxing Classic began.  The children and their coaches arrive a few days before the event to tour our nation’s capital and meet the kids that they will be boxing against, participate in training sessions and attend dinners together.  Cultural events for the children over the years have included White House tours, Congressional tours and this year a possible trip to Mount Vernon is being planned.  The boxers will arrive Thursday, April 15th for a six-day visit, including participation in the Belfast-Beltway Boxing Classic on Saturday, April 17th, and donations are welcome to help cover the cost of their stay.

“This has been a very successful program for our kids,” says Mr. Keenan of the AHC.  “Children and teenagers come to us from broken homes, heading down the wrong path and with bad influences all around them.  With encouragement, confidence, respect, training and opportunities such as this, which allow them to get out of their neighborhoods and see a different future for themselves, they can achieve anything.”

The next goal for the Belfast-Beltway Boxing Project is to take a team of D.C. amateur boxers to the island of Ireland.  “The purpose of the Belfast-Beltway Boxing Project is to bridge the gaps between cultures, and to provide positive experiences, opportunities, and hope to young people by supporting groups that offer an alternative to the streets through amateur athletics, after-school activities and cultural exchange programs,” says Emmanuel Quinn.  “We have seen this program change the lives of children and broaden their horizons, and our primary goal is to fund a local boxing organization to take a group of Washington, D.C.-area youth to Northern Ireland for a similar experience.”  Mr. Quinn noted that the Belfast-Beltway Boxing Project is actively seeking an organization to work with on that trip to the island of Ireland.

Mini-fundraisers are held throughout the year to promote the big event and help pay for the kids during their stay, with happy hours at local bars, including the Pour House, 18th Amendment and the Pug.  The next happy hour will be on Sunday, March 7th from 4–9 pm at the Top of the Hill on Capitol Hill; you can check out more information about the happy hour and the main event on the Belfast-Beltway Boxing Project website at www.belfastbeltwayboxingclassic.org.  Come out to the happy hour next Sunday if you can, meet some of the Belfast-Beltway Boxing Classic board members and chat with them about possibly purchasing a ticket to the main event before it sells out.  Tickets are $250 per person or $2500 for a table of ten.  There are also VIP sponsorships available, which offer ringside seating, promotional signage and the opportunity for one guest at your table to present the belt to the winner of your sponsored match.

The Belfast-Beltway Boxing Classic Board Members hope to see some of you at the main event April 17th!  Information for purchasing tickets can be found on the website – www.belfastbeltwayboxingclassic.org.

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