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Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012

Ace Boxing Club and the Porter Legacy

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 “Do you see this?” coach Frank Porter says, pointing to a long shelf jammed with trophies. Porter, program director at Ace Boxing Club, is talking to his beginner class of boxers lined up inside the ring. They are listening attentively, with their hands behind their backs.

“We won these trophies because we have boxers who—one word—listened. Listened to our instruction in this formula that my family has developed—me, my father and my grandfather.” Porter has taken a moment to talk to his class about the importance of following instruction, but now it’s back to work—today, specifically, footwork.

“FORWARD!” he shouts. “FORWARD!” the class replies, taking a small, solid step forward. “BACK!” Porter shouts. “BACK!” They step back.

The Porter family boxing legacy goes back to Teddy “Cyclone” Porter, who fought as a pro boxer in the 1920s and ’30s, with an impressive record of 160 wins, 8 losses.

Teddy’s son Del became a boxer as well. In 1960, Del noticed there were a lot of youth in his neighborhood with nothing to do but hang around on the street and get into trouble. One day he approached some of them and challenged them to become boxers. When they told him they didn’t have money to join a gym, Del took it upon himself to set up a free training facility, and Ace Boxing Club was born. His decision has led to a constructive outlet for hundreds of young men and women, trained by charitable volunteers.

After shuffling around to different locations, Del found a solid home for Ace in Kosciuszko Park (located in Lincoln Village) in a county building that had been dormant.

Del’s son Frank had trained with Ace when he was younger, but as a young man he had a falling out with Del.

“I got lost and I got caught up in the street life with drugs and alcohol,” Porter says.  He eventually beat his problems with a 12-step program. In 1999 Frank decided it was time to make amends, so he began rebuilding his relationship with his father and helping out at the club. Soon Del, in declining health, passed the torch to Frank. After a battle with cancer, Del passed on in 2008.

In Del’s honor, the building that houses the Ace was renamed the Del Porter Pavilion—the first Milwaukee County building named after an American Indian.

 

Improving the Community

“Don’t just stand there like a tree—you’re going to get knocked out, champ!” Porter yells to his students, now pairing their footwork with shadowboxing moves. He gives them tough love as encouragement to stay on their toes and make it through the hour-long class, an intense mix of stretching, warming up and working on punching bags, as a timed bell clangs off the rounds.

Boxing has a reputation as a violent, bloody sport, but Porter says people often confuse amateur boxing with professional boxing. Amateurs box three short rounds, wear protective headgear and score points for good sportsmanship in addition to punches landed. “It’s like checkers and chess—same board, different game,” Porter says.

Frank’s vision for Ace goes beyond being just a boxing club. Porter is a fatherly figure to many of his boxers, offering them advice and getting them involved in the community. His students often help with activities like litter removal and flower-bed maintenance in the park. “It teaches these kids the value of getting involved in their community,” Porter explains.

The Ace boxers are celebrated in the community but often ignored by media and politicians. Porter points out the club’s most recent champ, 18-year-old Joaquin Morrobel, who competed in the 2012 Golden Gloves Wisconsin State Tournament. Morrobel not only won in his division, but he was also awarded an MVP trophy for outstanding boxer.

Ace Boxing Club is an ethnically diverse place with participants both young and old. Fred Larson, a 1972 diamond belt heavyweight-boxing champ, was trained by Del and stops in to help coach a new generation. Sixteen-year-old Jaime Nerios has been training at Ace six days a week for the last couple of years and now helps new students by leading them through warm-up exercises. “This place is like home to me,” he says.

Ace’s new head coach is Porter’s nephew, Mark Porter Groll, who brings the Porter boxing legacy to a fourth generation. 

Ace Boxing Club is located at 2160 S. 10th St. For more information, visit aceboxingclub.org.

Tea Krulos writes about music and culture for the Shepherd Express.

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