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Putting the Star in Starrett City

BY Robert Mladinich ON July 31, 2005
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The Starrett City Boxing Club (SCBC) in the East New York section of Brooklyn, New York, was founded in 1978 by Jimmy O’Pharrow, the ubiquitous coach who is probably best known for his terrific description of junior welterweight Dmitriy Salita, a Russian émigré who happened into the gym and quickly became a star. “He looks Russian, prays Jewish and fights black,” proclaimed the colorful O’Pharrow.

Although O’Pharrow is not as active as he used to be, his presence at the gym is still strong. The tremendous legacy he created lasts to this day. On any given day, visitors will encounter a hodgepodge of fighters from around the world with one common goal: to become a champion.

Among the champions and top contenders who have, or do call the SCBC home are WBC welterweight titlist Luis Collazo, heavyweight contender Monte Barrett, and such undefeated prospects as light heavyweight Jaidon Codrington, middleweight “Mean” Joe Greene, and junior middleweight Curtis Stevens.

“There’s a lot of boxing here, but there’s also a lot of love,” said 66-year-old coach Bobby Slayton, who was rendered paraplegic after Dominican drug dealers angered over his community activism pumped six bullets into his body 21 years ago.

“We have blacks and whites, Jews and Arabs, Serbs and Croats, and Filipinos and Vietnamese here. At the end of the day, everyone is each other’s brother. Non-boxing people don’t realize what nice guys most boxers are. Many of them are regular churchgoers. They don’t have time for all that racist crap.”

The way Slayton sees it, he is not only happy to be alive, he is thrilled to be involved in something so close to his heart. Raised in the Washington Heights section of northern Manhattan, he ran with such notorious gangs as the Sportsmen, the Egyptian Kings, and the Harlem Lords as a youngster. The only thing that kept him out of prison, and quite possibly alive, was his passion for sports—all sports. 

In the early sixties he tried out for the minor league affiliates of the New York Yankees and the New York Jets, and also had limited success as a Golden Gloves boxer. Three times he lost to fighters who ultimately became champions in that prestigious tournament.

“Sports always gave me a strong will, and doctors said it was my will that kept me alive after the shooting,” said Slayton. “I was in the hospital for six months, had over 30 surgeries, and more infections than I can remember. God kept me here for a reason, and I think that boxing had a lot to do with that reason.

“A lot of these kids have no fathers, and they want to be gangsters,” Slayton said. “They don’t believe in God and have no faith in anything but their own instincts. Boxing provides a way for them to express themselves in a positive way, and I’m happy to be able to help them.”

Running the day to day operations of the gym is Randy Stevens, a native of the Virgin Islands who, between 1964 and 1975, fought as a professional middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight. Among the more notable opponents he faced in amassing a 5-18-2  (1 KO) record were Lorenzo Zanon, who challenged Larry Holmes for the heavyweight title in 1980, “Irish” Bobby Cassidy, who is currently a boxing analyst for this web site, Jose Luis Garcia, who once beat Ken Norton, and numerous European stars in their hometowns.

In addition, he was a longtime sparring partner for Ron Lyle, and helped Lyle prepare for his title shot against Muhammad Ali in May 1975. He was forced to retire after suffering a severe eye injury in a bout with Fonomanu (Young) Sekona in New Zealand in June 1975. That injury, which he says was caused by an errant thumb, resulted in him eventually losing his sight in his right eye.

Ironically, years later, while working for a printer, his left eye was also seriously injured when hot coffee was thrown in his face during a workplace dispute. To this day, his sight in that eye is limited.

“The gym is like a gift to me,” he said. “I have a lot of experience so I enjoy passing on whatever advice I can to these kids. They are good kids and eager to learn—and listen.”

Another gym devotee is entrepreneur Andre Rozier. The owner of an athletic apparel company called Havoc Boxing Gear, he promotes amateur shows at the Brownsville Community Center in Brooklyn, as well as professional shows at the Amazura Ballroom in Jamaica, Queens.

A onetime amateur boxer, he is happy to impart the wisdom he has acquired on countless youngsters who remind him of himself as a youngster with lots of questions and no readily available answers.

“Not every kid that walks in here will be a world champ,” said Rozier. “But many of them develop the skills that will help them in life. Boxing can give them the discipline and self-respect to realize they can be whatever they want to be—doctors, lawyers, police officers, teachers. For many of these kids, the key to their future success begins right here—in this hot, sweaty gym. It’s here where they learn what they’re made of, and that is what carries them through life.”

The Starrett City Boxing Club is located at 1506 Hornell Loop, Brooklyn, NY 11239. The phone is 212-300-7644. Email: info@scbct.com.

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