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How A Connecticut YMCA Is Crafting Future Champions

By: Sean Crose

“We have a kid in the boxing room right now,” Paul Norris tells me. “He’s 225 pounds. He pushed my tooth in the other day.” We’re standing in the middle of the basketball court of the Naugatuck, Connecticut YMCA, surrounded by children being trained by experts. The kids aren’t at basketball practice; however, they’re working on their boxing skills. The hoops may well be present at each end of the court, but the young people here – both boys and girls – are focused on gloves, heavy bags and pad work. And, in the midst of it all stands Norris, his wife Angelica, and his father-in-law, Perry, offering support – as well as the tricks of the trade.

The Norris clan is the perfect family to run the Naugatuck YMCA’s boxing program. Paul, Angelica, and Perry all have strong boxing backgrounds. Indeed, each looks to still be close to fighting shape. Perhaps that’s why the gym was packed with future boxers when the 2022 program opened this past winter.

Mark LaFortune, the Chief Executive Officer of the Naugatuck YMCA, is open in his gratitude “to have a boxing program and instructors like we do.” And in case you’re wondering, the program is not a paying gig for the Norris’. “I volunteer and I love it,” says Paul. Angelica is of the same mind. “I love it,” she says. “I carry on my legacy…my oldest son helps us out and now my little one is doing it.” The family knows something people of similar backgrounds can attest to – that boxing is a sport that remains with the participant long after the last ring battle. This is evidenced by Perry.  “Since I was thirteen years old,” the sixty-something responded when I asked how long he’s been involved with the fight game.

The Naugatuck YMCA’s boxing program isn’t just a way for kids to pass the time, however. Those who do well and are old enough are sent to nearby Bridgeport where they are prepared for more rigorous competition. “We move ‘em on,” says Paul. What makes the Norris family’s program unique is that it flies in the face of the adage that boxing is a sport of previous era. This is a local boxing program that is not only alive, but that offers outlets for less conventional training. The Norris’ work with children on the spectrum and well as people with Alzheimer’s.  “I was just asked to do the Parkinson’s (boxing) program,” says Paul.

Not only does the Norris family find boxing good competition for the young, they know it can be useful out of the gym, as well, both psychologically and physically. “Our motto,” says Paul, “is don’t start a fight, but always know how to finish one.”

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