On weekdays from 4:30 to 6:30 PM, curious sounds come out of a powder blue two-story garage on the 102nd block of South Hoyne. Inside the gas-heated building, heavy weights clang, jump ropes swish, feet pound the cement floor. A radio tuned to B-96 blares amid male voices and the steady throb of fists against punching bags. A fight bell rings intermittently, signaling the start and finish of three-minute rounds in the downsized 14-by-14-foot boxing ring on the second floor.
Eight or nine boxers, sometimes more, come here every weekday to work out. Most are in their teens or early 20s, though one boy is seven and there are men in their 50s. Chicago police officers, county sheriff's police, even an FBI agent spar here, though some officers drop in just to visit their friend Marty McGarry, the 1971 Golden Gloves champ who owns the garage and is the proprietor of McGarry's Boxing Club.
McGarry, a 49-year-old Irish immigrant from the town of Belmullet in County Mayo, sparred with the best--Muhammad Ali and Ernie Terrell--and he studied under their coach, Kid Carson. He was introduced to the sport by an Irish priest, and he stuck with it after he came to the states as a teenager. He became a Catholic Youth Association champ, then held the state amateur middleweight title for 1971 and 1972 and later competed briefly as a professional. At the time he was one of only a few white fighters on Chicago's south side, and he says that taught him a lesson he enjoys passing on to youngsters. "There's no room for prejudice in boxing," he says. "In boxing we're all the same color. It breaks down racial barriers."
McGarry works as a pipe fitter for the Cook County Department of Corrections and devotes most of his spare time to coaching and organizing amateur boxing events that raise money for athletic programs in local Catholic schools and other community organizations. "That's a lot of late nights on the phone," he says.
He has trained participants in the Supercop Fight Night competitions, which include members of the Chicago and suburban police departments and the Cook County sheriff's office. But most of his time is spent with the kids. Last year he received the Ezzard Charles Award from the Illinois State Crime Commission for 20 years of coaching youngsters. "And for keepin' them out of trouble," he says. Many of the kids come to McGarry on their own, but some have been referred to him by police officers who think they have potential.
Since the early 70s, McGarry has trained eight Golden Gloves champions, two national Silver Gloves champions, and a Junior Olympics champ. He used to work out of places such as the Windy City Boxing Club, the Fuller Park field house, and Johnny Coulon's gym, but five years ago he and Michael O'Boyle, a 1985 Golden Gloves champion turned carpenter, built the garage gym. They put the punching bags on special hooks and put the workout equipment on wheels, so that everything could be moved aside to make room for the two family cars.
"It's more convenient to train the kids here," McGarry says. "Sometimes they wouldn't show up, and I'd be there all by myself. Often I'd come home to a late supper." The garage gym also enables him to train more youngsters, who now come from as far as Alsip, Markham, and Mokena.
No sparring takes place in the gym without the supervision of McGarry or his assistant coach, Steve O'Malley, a Chicago fireman. Both train the fighters hard every day. They have them punch bags, shadow box, lift weights, cycle, row, run, and jump rope. "I make sure they work hard, get them in tip-top shape," McGarry says. "I never put them in the ring if I don't think they're ready." Both men also tailor their coaching to each fighter. "It's an individual sport," McGarry says. "You have to work with every kid according to their ability and motor skills."
"When I first started out I was horrible," says 21-year-old Malachy Farrell, who began boxing in 1995. At six foot four he's taller than most heavyweights, and he had to develop a special fighting style to guard his solar plexus--a large target for shorter boxers. "I just kept at it. Marty turned it all around for me." Farrell recently won the state heavyweight title.
The gym is set up as a nonprofit. McGarry pays out of his own pocket for most of the exercise equipment for the gym, as well as gloves, headgear, jump ropes, and other items. He doesn't charge for lessons, though the kids do pay $20 in monthly fees to the U.S. Boxing Association, which provides them insurance in case they're injured. He puts some of the money raised through various boxing events toward equipment and scholarships for the youngsters. "I think it's important that they stay in school and do well and go on to college," he says. "I'm hoping to add to this with outside donations."
On a recent Wednesday, Shay Mobley, a 23-year-old from Riverdale, steps into the garage's ring with Mike Walker, a 22-year-old from Chicago. They bob, they dance, they weave artfully. At first their gloves only cut the air, but when the boxers finally exchange blows, a virtual storm breaks out, vibrating the floor-to-ceiling mirrors behind the ring. For a few moments the plywood walls of the garage seem tested. More bobbing, dancing, weaving, another couple of storms. McGarry cracks a big smile. "All right, that was a good fight, you two," he says. "Better not fight each other anymore until after the weekend."
He means the state-level amateur boxing competition, held January 20 and 21 at 115 Bourbon Street, a restaurant and bar in Merrionette Park. Fourteen clubs are participating in 12 bouts of four rounds or less. "We're one of the smallest clubs in the Chicago area, but we produce most of the champions out of here," McGarry says the day before the competition. "We're definitely a force to be reckoned with."
The day of the competition the large back room of the restaurant is dense with cigarette smoke and crowded with fans. McGarry wraps his boxers' hands with special care and gently rubs petroleum jelly on their faces to prevent unnecessary scrapes and cuts.
An emcee dressed in a black tuxedo stands in the ring and yells into a microphone. "In the blue corner, Mike Bovenizer!"
A large man who's drinking beer says, "Bovenizer? What kind of a name is that? Bovenizer?"
Seconds later Bovenizer knocks down his opponent, Martin Prieto from the Windy City Boxing Club. That stops the bout in the first round, and the room explodes with applause, whistles, and shouts. After the noise subsides, the large man says, "Bovenizer? Bovenizer. Damn, I like that Bovenizer! Sounds like Budweiser."
Unlike the other coaches, who stand outside the ropes barking commands over their boxers' shoulders, McGarry hops into the ring between rounds and positions himself at eye level with the seated fighters. He pours water over their heads, wipes their faces with a towel, and offers a bucket as a spittoon, keeping his dark eyes locked on their faces and providing suggestions in a low voice.
Shay Mobley goes into the ring with Sergy Serduk from the Palace of Sports in Buffalo Grove. Serduk has fought almost twice as many competitive bouts as Mobley, and his pals cheer him on in Russian. But Mobley defeats him. Later Serduk's trainer, Alex Babayev, a Russian immigrant, expresses admiration for the McGarry Boxing Club. "It's competitive boxers, nice boxers," he says. "They're nice fighters, and it's nice coaching. I see it every time I participate in competitions in the Chicago area."
McGarry says he always insists on good sportsmanship, but his boxers don't always manage it. One of them, a 19-year-old superheavyweight named Thomas Hayes, recently fought competitively for the first time in a state competition, against Alan Cherry of the Warehouse Gym in Highland Park. At one point the fighters were ordered by the referee to separate, and Hayes took a punch at Cherry's head, a definite foul. The audience booed. "That ain't right, McGarry," shouted a woman in the crowd. "I'm surprised!"
Yet Louis Rios, president of the Illinois Boxing Association, insists, "The McGarry Boxing Club is one of the better ones in the state. They're real good fighters and real good management. The kids are likable, all gentlemen."
"Left hook to the liver," McGarry tells Mike Walker before his fourth round against George Mendola from the Jesse the Law Torres Boxing Club of Aurora. Walker has shown restraint, fending off Mendola for most of the bout, but now he opens up with solid punches that knock his opponent to the ground. The referee gives two eight counts, and the audience roars its approval. Walker has won a state light heavyweight title and an Outstanding Boxer Award.
When the competition is over the McGarry boxers have won 9 of the 12 bouts. Walker, Mobley, and Farrell are open-division champs, which means they now have to prepare for the regional competitions, held in early February in Benton Harbor, Michigan. If they win there, they'll move on to the national competition in Colorado Springs in early March.
The Monday after the 115 Bourbon Street competition, McGarry is in his garage, talking into a cellular phone that doesn't seem to stop ringing. He tells a friend, "I plan to relax for a little while." But as he says it he's taping hands and fastening headgear for youngsters.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lloyd DeGrane.