Ringside For Youth XX – A Fundraising Success Story

June 17th, 2014 by  |  Published in Concerts, News

Ringside For Youth

Ottawa Mayor, Jim Watson, presents The Cooper Brothers with an achievement award.

Photos: Terry Steeves

This is the story of how members of a community got together to help a financially strapped youth centre. That was 20 years ago, and the centre was the Ottawa Police Youth Centre, located in the Debra St./Dynes Ave. area…a neighbourhood which at one time, was plagued with crime. The PYC opened in 1992, inside a building which was once a fire hall, creating a place where kids could participate in various youth programs, many of which were geared during the after-school time slot. A safe place to hang out, do homework, partake in various activities, build friendships, learn social skills…a place to call their own. It wasn’t very long before the crime rate dropped, but the centre was in financial jeopardy and needed major funding to keep its doors open.

Enter Steve Gallant, a financial advisor with CIBC Wood Gundy for nearly 30 years, and native to the same neighbourhood growing up. He came up with an idea on how to save the ailing centre, which had become a vital staple in the community. He thought of creating a fundraising event, showcasing amateur boxers from Ottawa, surrounding areas, and as far as the U.S., featuring a retired championship boxer as a special guest. He combined his own business savvy with the skills and experience of some of his longtime friends. Joe Sandulo, his boxing coach from his years of training at the Beaver Boxing Club, was well connected in the world of both amateur and professional boxing, having himself been an Olympic boxer at the age of 17, then moving on to become the club‘s president/head coach for 36 years. Co-founder of JetForm Corporation, Tom Hicks, came forward to provide the venue in which the event would take place, and helped to put together ticket sales. Brian and Dick Cooper, along with Terry King of Ottawa’s renowned The Cooper Brothers, brought in their staging know-how, and could pull from their large network of performers, to provide the musical entertainment factor. Terry King, whose own kids had attended the youth centre, was also a large contributor. He sadly passed away in 1998, but for his supportive efforts, a scholarship fund has been presented each year in his honour.

Ringside For Youth

Singers Deedee Butters, Rebecca Noelle, and Olex Pruchnicky of The Peptides.

With the groundwork laid by this joint effort, Ringside For Youth was born, and in its first year, had featured retired Canadian heavyweight champion, George Chuvalo as their first celebrity special guest. Although many had expressed doubts on the success of this venture, Gallant maintained an unwavering belief that it would work. Two hundred people had attended the event to raise $15,000 for the youth centre…an achievement that would only add to the momentum of growth in the years to come. Soon after, the PYC would amalgamate with the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa, becoming one of the fold of 8 locations of youth centres throughout the city. Throughout the years, the annual Ringside For Youth would bring in such boxing greats as Michael Spinks, Evander Holyfield, Jake La Motta, Gerry Cooney, Larry Holmes, Lennox Lewis, Smokin’ Joe Frazier, and Marvelous Marvin Hagler…just to name a few.

Ringside For Youth

Sugar Ray Leonard…tells of his life’s lessons in and out of the boxing ring.

This time was no exception, featuring boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard for the event’s 20th year. The Cooper Brothers themselves were on board, performing at this year’s gala, along with the assistance of three remarkable female singers of Ottawa‘s, The PepTides, Deedee, Olex, and Rebecca. This being my first time attending, I arrived at Ottawa’s beautiful downtown Convention Centre to walk into a vast corporate scene. People mingled for awhile in the lobby area, enjoying cocktails as well the sounds of The Cooper Brothers. Ottawa mayor, Jim Watson, having claimed the day as “Ringside For Youth Day”, took the stage to present The Cooper Brothers with a framed certificate, acknowledging the band’s 40th year together, as well as having been an integral part of the event’s success over the past 20 years. Soon after, everyone made their way inside the main room for dinner and the main event, which would kick off with an interview/speech from Sugar Ray Leonard inside the boxing ring, followed by rounds of high level amateur boxing. Inside this massive room, were enough round tables to seat the sold-out crowd of over 1,300, along with an elevated, regulation sized boxing ring, smack in the middle of it all.

This very Las Vegas style evening began with the returning emceeing skills of Ottawa’s entertainer/actor, Angelo Tsarouchas, who circulated his way through the crowd conducting spot interviews, providing an array of informative insights from the boxing world, as well as highlights of the event and its contributors past and present. Above the ring, were large screens, on which inspirational videos of how contributing efforts to the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa have made a difference in the lives of our youth. Over the past 20 years, many corporations have jumped into this fundraising effort, as well as big name contributors such as Ottawa’s own Daniel Alfredsson of the Ottawa Senators, and retired professional heavyweight boxer, Gerry Cooney, who has been a supporter for the past 10 years and frequently returns as a special guest.

Ringside For Youth

The Cooper Brothers…long supporters of Ringside For Youth since the beginning, perform at this year’s event.

The meal itself was splendid, with the attention to service detail provided by the volunteer efforts of one of Ringside For Youth’s chair members, Jeff O’Reilly, and his fantastic staff of Darcy McGee’s Irish Pub. Security on hand was also generously provided on a volunteer basis by officers of the Ottawa Police Service. Just after dinner, I was fortunate enough to track down and have a quick chat with the evening’s busiest man, Steve Gallant himself. He shared with me his reflections of this successful endeavour, which he had confidence in right from the very start. He knew that Ottawa was a very sports-oriented city, as well as a highly charitable one, especially when it comes to the needs of our youth. He envisioned an event that one would feel as if they took a step outside of Ottawa into a Vegas drenched surrounding. To me, that’s exactly what it felt like, as I stood amidst an overwhelming sea of corporate support.

Celebrity guest announcer, TSN’s Rod Smith, stepped into the ring to introduce and interview Sugar Ray Leonard to a hushed, attentive crowd. Known as the 1980’s Boxer of the Decade, Leonard has won world titles in five weight divisions, and the first boxer to win over $100 million in purses. Born, Ray Charles, after his mother’s favorite singer, he described himself as a shy teenager growing up. It was his older brother who got him into the world of boxing, in which he felt released from his, at times, volatile surroundings at home. He spoke of the dedication and perseverance in the sport, what it taught him, how being inside the ring was the centering force in his life, and how he has moved on to becoming active as a motivational speaker and author of his autobiographical book, “The Big Fight – My Life In And Out Of The Ring”, released in June of 2011. He spoke openly about his unfortunate personal experience as a victim of child sex abuse, and even through its ever lingering effects, how he has been able to combat related issues in his life that resulted from it. I’m forever grateful to have had the chance to meet this truly remarkable man, to have sat next to him for just a brief moment, and to commend him on not only his career achievements, but his bravery in speaking about an otherwise hidden and humiliating subject.

Ringside For Youth

Jill Perry (furthest left), president/head coach of Ottawa’s Beaver Boxing Club.

The evening carried on with bout after bout of the best in amateur boxing, with star contenders from Ottawa, Peterborough, Gatineau, Laval, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Both the Canadian and American anthems were beautifully and harmoniously sung acapella by the lovely and talented trio of ladies of The PepTides. Current president/head coach of Ottawa’s Beaver Boxing Club, Jill Perry, was on hand, co-ordinating the fight sequences and coaching some of our own contenders. The club has continued to arrange Ringside For Youth’s fight card since its inauguration. Although former club president/head coach Joe Sandulo retired and passed the torch onto Jill Perry back in 2011, he is still very much involved in the fundraising event each year. As for these young fighters, I can only imagine the intense anxiety they must have felt, showcasing themselves in front of a boxing legend like Sugar Ray Leonard, who was seated at a table immediately alongside the boxing ring. There were 5 rounds in 4 different weight divisions during the course of the evening, with outstanding prize packages being auctioned off in between bouts. One of these prize packages included a fight robe and a pair of professional boxing gloves signed by Sugar Ray Leonard himself. The robe was a donation from Ottawa’s Fab Gear 64 (“Uncle Bob” Cabana). The bidding had started at $1,500 but quickly escalated into an all-out bidding war when Leonard stepped back into the ring to announce he would throw in a free boxing lesson. The final bidding closed at a staggering $21,000, won by Giovanni’s Restaurant.

The night ended with a final knockout draw, a “Bout of the Evening Award” presented by Sugar Ray Leonard, and various closing remarks to bring Ringside For Youth XX to another successful close. In all, over $2.5 million has been raised to date for the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa…an impressive achievement by a community coming together year after year to benefit the lives of our youth.

Ringside For Youth

One of the many volunteers of Ottawa’s finest, providing security during Ringside For Youth XX.

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