Local Boxers Compete To Be Crowned Champion of The Golden Gloves
Every February, competitors from every corner of Oregon and every walk of life come to meet in the ring and battle for the title Oregon Golden Gloves Champion. For some, the road to this moment is long and paved with sacrifice. But they still come, with smiles on their faces and dreams in their hearts, hoping that at the end of the night they will don the blue and gold jacket that will brand them a champion forever.
Half an hour before the competition started, the audience trickled in to fill hundreds of available seats in the large auditorium of the Salem Armory. The ring-side tables already held a few of the more devoted boxing fans who were willing to pay a premium for the privilege of better proximity to the action. The real action was behind the curtain on the stage that serves as a preparation area for fighters and their teams.
Scattered across the dimly lit stage were several teams huddled together among the few tables and metal folding chairs. The smell of decades-old sweat wafted from the dozens of open gym bags overflowing with red and blue gloves, headgear and body guards that have seen their share of victory and loss.
Just inside the left stage door, Whitney Gomez, a 32-year-old wife and mother of three from Deschutes County Rocks Boxing in Bend, straddled the seat of her backwards facing chair, her arm extended over the seat. She listened intently to her coach as he skillfully swaddles her hand and wrist in a protective layer of gauze and tape. Gomez is one of just four female competitors on the card, and although she is unopposed in her weight class and will automatically advance to the regionals in Las Vegas, she decided to fight in a match bout against Julianne Marlow from Portland City Boxing.
“Tonight is my first time fighting in Oregon,” Gomez said. She moved to Bend from Salt Lake City, Utah in December 2018. “I started boxing in 2016. I had never even watched boxing before. One day my friend told me I should try it, so I did. I loved it! I started sparring and had my first fight two weeks later.”
In December 2019, Gomez, who has wanted to be an olympian since she was 8 years old, competed in the 2020 Olympic trials in Lake Charles, Louisiana. She won the first two fights but was eliminated after losing the third match by split decision. She was hoping for a victory before heading to Las Vegas next month.
A little farther down the stage, the Rip City Boxing Club was preparing its members for their bouts. Chris Uribe was having his hands wrapped by head coach James Franco. At just 14 years old, Uribe was too young for the Golden Gloves Championship but he fought in a match bout against Kristian McCarty from SonRise Boxing to whom he lost at a previous show.
“I want to be a pro boxer when I grow up,” said Uribe. “I have been boxing forever, but I just started competing about six months ago. I love boxing because it’s just you in the ring, no one else. Just you against the other person.”
Tomas Aguilar, 31, said he had already qualified for the regionals, so he was there helping out his teammates and coaches.
“My opponent came in overweight, so he had to forfeit,” Aguilar says. “I’ve been boxing since I was 13, but I took a lot of time off because of a car accident. I just came back to boxing at the end of 2018. I love boxing because it’s a sport that’s all about you and how hard you can push yourself. It’s always been my dream to fight in Vegas and now my goal is going to be achieved.”
Seventeen-year-old Jamari Etherly looked relaxed as he warmed up for his shot at the Oregon Junior Golden Gloves Championship title against Isaiah Schaub from East Side Boxing. Etherly has been boxing for about four years and this was his 50th fight.
“I used to play football, but I wasn’t passionate about it,” Etherly says. “I tried boxing and it was great. I want to continue boxing and go pro.”
Boxing may be an individual sport in the ring, but out of the ring it is definitely a team effort. The Rip City Boxing team, including their two youngest members, Antony Lopez, age 11, who has had two fights, and Anthony Vargaz, age 7, who will start competing when he’s 8 years old, all came out to support Etherly and Uribe.
When the fights got underway, the audience filled about a quarter of the available seats. Different sections stood in turn to cheer as their respective competitors entered the ring — their excitement pulsing through the crowd. The tables around the ring were full. Many of the seats were occupied by champions of the past who proudly sported the blue-and-gold jackets that signify their accomplishments and mark them as the elite few whose ranks the competitors dream of joining.
The announcer entered the ring and said: “Fighting out of the blue corner from RIP City Boxing, weighing in at 146 pounds, Jamari Etherly.”
Etherly, followed by his coaches and teammates who serve as his entourage, entered the auditorium and walked towards the ring. Cheers from the crowd drowned out the entrance music as he stepped inside the ring and bowed to the officials on each side before taking his place in the blue corner. The referee inspected his headgear, mouthguard and gloves ,then gave the OK to the announcer. Etherly waited as his opponent was announced.
“Fighting out of the red corner from East Side Boxing, weighing in at 142 pounds, Isaiah Schaub.”
Schaub, followed by his entourage, walked proudly to the ring as the crowd cheered him on. He went through the same procedure as Etherly, and the referee brought them both to the center of the ring. The two fighters touched gloves, then returned to their corners. The bell is rung, and the fight began.
For three rounds, both fighters put forth every ounce of effort they had. When the final bell rang the crowd cheered for both young men. The fighters embraced and congratulated each other on a job well done, then went to each others corners to shake hands with the coaches. They removed their headgear and gloves and met in the middle of the ring.
The announcer says: “Tonight’s winner, by unanimous decision, fighting out of the blue corner, Jamari Etherly!”
The referee raised Etherly’s hand in victory as Schaub’s face fell with disappointment.
It was the second loss and final match in this competition for East Side Boxing. The RIP City team celebrated their victory, as the East Side team headed backstage.
Joseph Charlton, the head coach of East Side Boxing, started boxing when he was 8. He competed until he was 20, and has spent the last 20 years coaching boxing.
“That was a hard fight,” Charlton said. “I used to coach Jamari [Etherly] too, so it was like having my guys fight against each other. But Isaiah [Schaub] has been living with me for a while now, so he’s like my own kid.”
“My family was going through some money problems,” said Schaub, 17. “We lived on food stamps and TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] and were living in a shelter. My coach took me in. He has been a big help in pursuing my dream of boxing. Boxing helps me focus on something other than home and the troubles we’re going through. It’s a great outlet.”
For Charlton, like many others in the sport, boxing is a family. Recently he’s had some serious health problems, including some strokes and a bout with leukemia, but says that boxing is a big reason why he is still going strong. He wants to help as many young people, like Schaub, as he can. His non-profit club doesn’t charge many of the kids who can’t afford it because those are the kids who need his help the most.
Charlton is also a father of five and he says all of his kids have boxed at one time or another. His oldest son boxed for a couple of years but decided it wasn’t for him. His son, Matthew Charlton, 14, fought his 101st fight tonight, which he lost by split decision. His daughter Lineah, 11, has been competing for a year and a half. His 7-year-old daughter Amelia will start competing next year when she turns 8, and his youngest, 3-year-old Addelyne, is obsessed with boxing.
“It’s the highest form of flattery when your kids want to follow in your footsteps,” Charlton says. “Coaching my own kids is not any different than coaching other kids. Actually, I’m probably tougher on them. But nothing can beat the comradery they learn in boxing. There’s no other sport where you’ll see two guys fighting and five minutes later they’re best friends playing basketball.”
The coordination of this event — which brought many of these young athletes one step closer to their dreams of winning state, regional, and national championships, was no small feat. Dan Dunn, the director of the Oregon State Golden Gloves and president of Wildcat Boxing, the club that sponsors the event, shared a little about what it takes to make all of this happen.
“We fundraise all year long,” Dunn says. “The space alone costs $4,000. We bring in about $10,000 in ticket sales and the rest of the money comes from the sponsors.” He pointed to the corners of the ring where some of the sponsors’ names were printed. “In addition to the money it costs to put on the event, we also need the money to send all the winners down to Las Vegas for regionals, and from there to nationals in Oklahoma.”
The 14 state champions from the event will advance to the Regional Golden Gloves Tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 14-15. The team and coaches, including Dunn, will need money to cover transportation, lodging, food and incidentals. It is the job of the director to make sure they have enough funds.
Dunn’s wife, Jessica Dunn, a part-time business instructor at LBCC, serves as the secretary of Wildcat Boxing and helps with much of the fundraising throughout the year.
“We have to raise about $20,000 a year to cover everything,” Jessica explained. “Everyone working at this event is a volunteer. A lot of them do this for the pros too, which they get paid for, but here, they volunteer their time so that this event can happen.”
The professionals she was referring to are the officials who are necessary for any boxing match to take place. According to the rules of USA Boxing, a boxing match must have: three judges, one time keeper, one referee and a doctor. Rory Baarstad, who also serves as Oregon’s USA Boxing registrar, has been volunteering his time for the last 24 years.
“I like doing this because it’s fun and I get to meet all kinds of people,” said Baarstad. “Boxing helps keep the kids off the streets and out of trouble. It steers them in the right direction and it’s just an all around good sport. I know a lot of these kids and, really, we’re all just a big family.”
If you’re interested in helping support the Golden Gloves Team on their way to regionals and nationals, you can make donations through their website, oregongoldengloves.com/salem-or, or through their Facebook page Oregon Golden Gloves. You can also watch video of tonight’s events on CCTV Salem’s YouTube page.
Story by Brenda Autry