Alliance Boxing News Articles

Scars from life a lesson for others

Golden one-two punch

Alliance Boxing Helps Inner City Youth Club

Alliance Boxing staging 30 bouts in fightfest

Courchene Credits Boxing for Redemption

Top Gun

In the Ring

In This Corner, A Bright Boxing Future

Boxing coach gives kids a fighting chance

Elmwood High fighter wins third national title

Boxing club making giant strides

Little boxing gym in city is a big hit with youths

Courchene making most of ring gold

Promising pugilist looking for a little more polish

Boxing coach up for the fight of his life

Boxer preparing for the fight of his life

Kids get fighting chance to grow


Scars from life a lesson for others

Winnipeg Free Press
By Leah Janzen

Raymond Baker is not your typical teacher. A downtown soup kitchen is his classroom and his scarred, tattooed body is his textbook. His lesson? How to avoid becoming a homeless, drug-addicted, criminal like he has been for most of his 42 years. Last night, Baker told his stories of violence, loneliness and desperation to a group of boxers from Alliance Boxing Inc. - an inner-city boxing club aimed at helping keep youth off the streets and out of trouble. "I've seen guys stabbed over cigarettes, my own brother stabbed me in the stomach,'' Baker told a small group of the youths who sat in rapt attention.

"Do you want to live like that? You gotta keep your life together. You gotta treat each other with respect. "Baker's life has been one horror after another. He has had his nose broken 18 times and his face sports a number of ragged reminders of countless fights he's been in over the years.
During his speech to the teenage boxers, Baker pulls up his sleeve to show them a long scar which runs the length of his forearm - the legacy of shoving his arm through a plate glass door during a fight. As a youth, he was arrested for stealing $20 from a friend. Since then, Baker has been busted a number of times for armed robberies and spent most of his life in and out of prison until the last time he was released in 1996.

Baker - who has been sober for the last couple of months - said he never had a home to call his own until recently when he moved into the Bell Hotel on Main Street. He is father to five children, but he has no idea where any of them are. "Someone could come up to me tomorrow and say 'hi daddy','' he said, his long black hair in a loose ponytail. "I wouldn't know who they are. That hurts my heart. "

Trouble for Baker began, he said, when he dropped out of school in Grade 6. From there, he began hanging out with gangs, stealing and fighting to gain respect. He cautioned the youth to avoid the same pitfalls which consumed his life. "Ask yourself, is my life more important than being tough and rough?,'' he said. "Just walk away from trouble, I wish I had."

Baker also encouraged the teens to remain in school. "If you don't, you'll be just like me,'' he warned, his grin exposing missing teeth.

Adam Redcliffe, 27, is younger than Baker, but shares a similar story. Redcliffe told the teens he was kicked out of his home at 14 after he stopped going to school. Soft-spoken and looking much younger than his years, Redcliffe said he gave up on school, starting drinking and hanging out with a bad crowd.Soon, he was committing petty crimes to get by and doing harder and harder drugs to numb his pain.

Now clean and sober, Redcliffe - who also lives in a Main Street hotel - said he eventually landed up in jail and addicted to drugs. "I was an angry kid,'' he said. "My anger ruined everything. "

Mathew Starr, 13, said the men's stories were an eye opener. "They told me more than I expected,'' he said. "I learned that I don't want to go the way they went."Brad Sinclair, 14, said he already has a family member serving time in jail. Hearing from Baker made him think twice about doing things that might get him there too, he said.

Mark Collins, who runs Alliance Boxing, said he brought the teens to the Siloam Mission last night in an effort to keep them dedicated to their education. Alliance Boxing is a second home to the 20-odd boxers who train at the free inner-city gym. Most come from economic and social backgrounds, which can best be described as difficult. Most of the young people who drop into the gym to spar, skip and train come from families who rely on social assistance or have been scarred by crime, drugs and violence.

Along with boxing training, Collins operates a stay-in-school program and a mentorship program out of the gym. Some of the athletes receive cash about $10 a week if they attend school each day and complete their training requirements. Young boxers have to finish their homework before they can turn their attention to the ring. Last Remembrance Day, Collins and 18 of his boxers helped feed 250 inner-city people at a special banquet at the mission.


Golden one-two punch

Brother, sis boxers land top honours at nationals

Winnipeg Sun
Jim Bender, staff reporter

At first, John Roach felt crestfallen.

His son, Damien, was on the telephone line from Sarnia, Ont. where he was competing at the Canadian Junior Boxing Championships last weekend.

“He sounded all depressed and I thought he’d gotten knocked out.” Roach recalled.
“Then he talked about quitting. He said, ‘I don’t think there’s going to be room in the house for two Canadian champions.’”

“I said, ‘Right on!’ I probably felt more excited about it than if I had won the fights myself.”

14 champions

Both Damien, 14, and his sister, Stormy, 15 won gold medals there.

“This is the first time in the history of Canadian boxing we’ve ever had a brother and sister win national junior championships.” said Alliance Boxing Club coach Mark Collins. “This is really special for me. Over the years, I’ve produced 14 champions and this is the first female one for me.”

Both won their respective 48-kilo classes in their first national appearances.

“That was awesome,” said Stormy. “To be the first brother and sister to ever win together is pretty cool.”

“After Damien won, he stepped out of the ring and gave me a hug and said ‘Ya gotta go, girl.’ When I won, it was such an adrenaline rush that it was like, ‘Wow!’”

Stormy usually spars with boys down at the Norquay Community Club, including Damien.

“I love getting in the ring, “ she said. “I love fighting. It’s fun.”

Damien was just as thrilled for his sister as he was for himself.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Damien, who had first introduced Stormy to the squared circle. Then he showed her how to grab gold.

“At the end of the fight, I wasn’t quite sure if I’d won it, “ he said. “When he(referee) held up my hand, I went, ‘Yeah!’ It was great.”
“I trained hard and fought hard to win it.”

The Roach kids were the first two Collins coached at the club.

“This is why I couch inner city kids – to show them their potential, “ he said.

When Damien first started, his dad wondered where he was going.

“He started all by himself and he’s worked really, really hard at it,” said John Roach, boasting that his son maintains an 80 – 90 percent average in Grade 8.

“My wife and I are very proud of both of them. Stormy slacked off at school (Grade 10) for awhile, but she’s picked it up again (70-80 percent average).”
In other bouts Bruce Oake (son of CBC-TV’s Scott Oake), 14, and Daniel Dudar, 16 – both of Crescentwood – won silver medals in the 54-kg and 60-kg classes, respectively. Alliance’s Cody Hanna, 16, added a bronze in the 63.5-kg class.


Alliance Boxing Helps Inner City Youth Club

Membership 90% Aboriginal

Thunder Voice News
With Philip Paul-Martin

To most people the idea of combating someone with your fists is not something appealing.

But to the members of the Alliance Boxing Club that is something they want to do, in the ring of course.

The club recently hosted a boxing tournament at the Weston Community Club in Winnipeg and did very well in both the competitive and exhibition categories.

The boxers ranged in age from 11 years old to the age of 17.

But according to Alliance Boxing Club Head Coach Mark Collins the results were secondary.

“Hey don’t get me wrong. I’m extremely proud of how hour club did this weekend. But to me the whole idea of getting kids to box is what’s involved to get to this stage. They have to train and eat properly. They have to apply themselves and with that training comes the self-confidence and believe that they can succeed. That’s what I see here today.”

Collins should know what he’s talking about

He’s been coaching boxing for the past sixteen years and recently attained his level 5 boxing certification.

Only a handful of coaches in Canada have done that.

Achieving that is a feather in his cap but Collins says that he’s motivated by the youth that he coaches at the Alliance Boxing Club.

“Basically almost all of the kids are Aboriginal and I’m proud of that. We use boxing as a tool to build confidence and help them to make good choices in life. All the things they learn can be used in other areas in life. Having vision is one thing. Seeing yourself succeeding can be a powerful tool. But that isn’t enough. You have to put in the hours of training and discipline yourself to make it reality. There’s risk involved too. You may not make it on your first try but you learn how to succeed in life.”

Collins spends numerous hours coaching kids who want to learn the sport of boxing.

All of his hours are volunteered. He holds down a full-time position with Via Rail during the workday.

“The inner reward is what allows me to do this. Some of the kids I coach are underdogs. They haven’t had the opportunities that other kids have had. At the club we become family. Some kids have been here for seven years. Really the most satisfying experience comes from outside the ring. I’ve seen some of my kids graduate from high school and they might not have made it if not for boxing. That’s the fight and they won it. Big time.”

One of the promising boxers Collins coaches is 11-year-old Walter Favel.

Walter lost his bout against a much larger Chad Weibe by two points.

Favel was penalized two points for having his mouth guard fall out twice during the bout.

Favel was impressive however, going after Weibe and giving him the best he had to offer.

Though disappointed with the outcome Favel felt he could and would beat him the next time.

“I’m going to have a re-match soon. I can beat this guy. I love boxing win or lose. But I love to win. My brothers all boxed and I want to box too. It’s been a fun road and I will be a pro one day.

It’s going to take a while though. I wouldn’t be in another club, that’s for sure. Not in a million years.”


Alliance Boxing staging 30 bouts in fightfest

Winnipeg Sun
Greg Di Cresce

Winnipeg’s Alliance Boxing has as many as 30 amateur bouts lined up at the Weston Memorial Community Centre this weekend and none will be mistaken for a piano recital.

Mark Collins, who runs Alliance Boxing Inc., organized tomorrow’s (7 p.m. to 10 p.m.) and Sunday’s (noon to 2 p.m.) fightfest – the Amateur Boxing Show – at Weston Memorial (corner of Logan and McKelvey) that will pit some of the province’s top aboriginal boxers against pugilists from Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Collins’ amateur boxers – ranging in age from 11 to 31 – primarily come from economically depressed households in the North End and have taken up the sweet science to turn their lives around.

“The reason it appeals to them is because it’s a macho sport,” Collins said. “These kids aren’t going to find piano lessons appealing. They live in the North End, they’re raised on welfare, their grandmothers raise them their sisters are in jail for whatever reasons and they open the fridge and there is no food in there. They’re just used to fighting for ever scrap they get in life.”

Alliance incorporated five years ago and has received federal funding through Canadian Heritage for the past three years. Alliance offers a variety of programs to the kids that regularly attend, including stay-in-school, mentorship, nutritional and elders history programs.

The main event of this weekend’s show is slated for tomorrow night between Mike Walchuk, the reigning 75-kg national champ and 2002 Commonwealth Games bronze medalist and five-times Nigerian champion Albert Onolunose, who recently immigrated to Canada.

“This will be better than any show that’s been around for a long time,” Collins said. “It’ll probably be better that the pro shows. You’ve got a high level of competition here with national and former national champions and hungry young kids who want to be national champions.”

Tickets range from $5-$7, with those under age 12 getting in free.


Courchene Credits Boxing for Redemption

Donning the boxing gloves just three years ago has proven to be a double whammy for Jason Courchene.

The 15-year-old Winnipegger not only won the national junior boxing championship in Montreal last weekend but it’s given his young life a positive focus.

“It’s my favourite thing to do,” Courchene said yesterday. “It’s always on my mind and it keeps me out of trouble. It’s fun, but it also takes a lot of hard work and determination.”

The 5-foot-11, 145-pounder out-pointed B.C.’s Garrett Halicki 10-3 to win the gold medal.

“That felt pretty good,” said the Grade 10 student. “Winning the silver (last year) made me hungry for it (the gold) this year.”

“I want to go as far as I can take it. My dream is the Olympics but if I’m good enough, I’ll turn pro when I’m old enough.”

Mark Collins, Courchene’s coach at the Winnipeg Native Alliance Boxing Club believes the youngster can realize those dreams if he stays in the squared circle.

“Now that he’s won the gold, he knows he has the potential if he makes the right choices in life,” he said. “Some friends of his were ex-champs but don’t box any more. And they’ve gotten into trouble since then.”


Top Gun

Mark Collins is a perfect example of sports building character.

Justice Gord Mackintosh recently honoured Collins and 19 other individuals and groups for their efforts toward crime prevention.

When not running the ribbons of steel for VIA Rail, Collins has volunteered his time coaching young inner-city kids in the sweet science of amateur boxing. In the past 18 years, nine of his athletes have won national titles, no to mention the dozens of street-smart kids he’s kept active and out of mischief.

A couple of decades ago, Collins was a go-getter and looked after the likes of young Darren Boyko and other little guys on the provincial champion St. Boniface Saints of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

Collins now coaches the Native Alliance Sports and Boxing Club.



In The Ring

Winnipeg Free Press
Marvin McDonald

Jason Courchene overcame the first hurdle in the defence of his national junior 63.5-kg amateur boxing intermediate division title on the weekend.

The Alliance Boxing Club fighter captured the provincial crown in a boxoff by a unanimous decision over Kevin Elsley of the Orioles club at the Pan-Am Boxing Club meet.

Alliance coach Mark Collins will take Courchene, Crescentwood club’s duo of Mathew Gemby, 51-kg and Derek Dudar, 60-kg and Pan-Am’s, Amy Heshka, 63.5-kg to the national youth championships in St. Catharines, Ont., later this month.


In This Corner, A Bright Boxing Future

Winnipeg Free Press
Amateur Scene
Marvin McDonald

It appears that coach Mark Collins has a budding star in Damien Roach training at his Alliance Boxing Club.

At just 13 years of age, Roach was named best boxer at the Cass Lake tournament on the weekend in Minnesota. The growing 43-kg fighter is a student at Elmwood School.

His teammate, Codey Hanna, 16, also won the 63.5-kg gold medal.

Several of coach Ed Yaremchuk’s Pan Am fighters competed as well, with Jo-Ann Brooks, 26, winning the 67-kg gold and Billy Arnott, 15, winning the 54-kg silver medal.

“I’ve never had a kid as talented as Damien at such a young age,” Collins said. “He’s so well advanced in skill and possesses a solid body punch.”

“With 28 bouts already under his belt, Damien has a bright future.”

Collins had guided many of this province’s elite national junior, intermediate and senior boxers over the past two decades. He knows his stuff.

On the local front, the urban sports program for inner-city kids is turning youngsters on to the sport of boxing.

Three brothers from the program, which Alliance club helps run, are doing well.

Jeremy Laquette, 11, his older brothers Jarrette, 13, and Lance, 14, suited up with Alliance and won their bouts on the weekend at the Orioles Boxing Club.

“Their older brother Lee also won,” Collins said.

Lee fights with the Pan Am club.


Boxing coach gives kids a fighting chance

Winnipeg Free Press
Amateur Scene
Chris Cariou

Mark Collins is a shaper of lives in Winnipeg’s inner city. He’s the head coach at the Alliance Boxing Club, but that only partially describes what he is to the many young kids he deals with. About 90 percent of his boxers are aboriginal. Some, like Erica Maytwayashing, are being raised with their brothers and sisters by their grandmother after their parents disappeared.

Others, like 13-year-old Jeremy Laquette, are part of 10-sibling families with little money to spend and, potentially, all kinds of unhealthy things to spend it on.

Collins says boxing is an attractive option for many core-area youngsters – it’s something they want to do if given a chance – and he can provide that for them. But it comes at a cost to them: They have to be responsible. And it comes at a financial cost, money the federal government is willing to let Collins spend to help get these kids on a firm footing in the ring, at school and at home.

“We use boxing as a tool,” Collins said yesterday, two days before he presents an amateur boxing show at Weston Community Centre tomorrow and Sunday featuring Maytwayashing, Laquette, Damien Roach, 12-year-old Terry Hanska and many of Manitoba’s other best young aboriginal boxers.

“It’s a sport these kids like. It appears to be macho to them… they’re not going to go out and take piano lessons. But we use it as an introduction to our other programs, like stay in school, competitive and recreational, mentorship and other things they need to learn. They can’t just come in and learn how to box and not be involved in the other stuff.”

This isn’t just pie-in-the-sky stuff, Collins picks up his boxers from school and in some cases, becomes a parent. He has to sign agenda books, as any mom or dad would do, after making sure homework is done. He drives them to the gym for training. He gets them into some of these programs.

And he organizes events like this weekend’s, along with other learning opportunities, working with local aboriginal groups. Recently, his boxers helped feed 250 people, many of them homeless, at a mission. He’s had police take some of the athletes through Winnipeg Remand Centre to give them an up-close look at the consequences of a criminal life.

He accesses money through a grant from Canadian Heritage and the Urban Aboriginal Youth Initiative, which also pays for most of these kids – many of them are on welfare – to train and to box at tournaments in Minneapolis and other areas.

He’s sending Laquette and Hanska – both junior national champions in their weight categories – to the Western Canadian Championships in Kelowna soon.

Tomorrow and Sunday, Collin’s fighters will be involved in 24 bouts against boxers from across the Prairie provinces, culminating in a 75-kg main event featuring Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Mike Walchuk of Regina facing five-time Nigerian champion Albert Onolunose.


Elmwood High fighter wins third national title

Winnipeg Free Press
Amateur Scene
Chris Cariou

As a 13-year-old, Damien Roach went to the National Junior Boxing Championships and beat opponents who were 15 and 16 en route to his first Canadian title.

Today, the Elmwood High School student is a junior champ for the third consecutive year after pummelling fighters from Alberta, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and New Brunswick on the weekend, winning every round in the process in the 54-kilogram category. His first two titles came in the 48-kg and 51-kg categories.

“He’s very dedicated. He’s got 55 fights and that’s a lot for a kid his age, “ Mark Collins, head coach at Alliance Boxing Club said yesterday. He said Roach reminds him a lot of another Canadian amateur champion form Winnipeg, His own Chad Brisson, who’s making a name for himself in the pro ranks.

“If you want to be the best, you’ve got to do more than the rest,” Collins said. “And that’s what Damien does.”

Roach was named best boxer of the tournament in St. John’s, Nfld, but he was hardly the only Manitoban to excel at the nationals. Jeremy Laquette, only 13 and moved up by Collins to take on older challengers won gold in the 39-kg class on the weekend, outpointing his Nova Scotia opponent 26-8 in the final.

Another Collins boxer, Erica Maytwayashing, would have won the female 46-kg in a walkover – there were no opponents in that category. So Collins moved her up to 48-kg and she won a silver medal.

Other Manitoba medallists on the weekend were Tim Hudson of the Thunder Warriors club (silver, 67-kg) and Meaghan MacKay of the Clifton Club (gold by a walkover in 81-kg)

“Its’ a team of eight kids and they brought back three golds and two silvers,” Collins said. “They’re all inner-city kids. It just shows that given the right support, they can succeed.”


Boxing club making giant strides

Winnipeg Free Press
Amateur Scene
Marvin McDonald

The Alliance Boxing Club under the direction of head coach Mark Collins continues to make giant strides in the young age-group program.

Terry Hanska, 10 in 30-kg, Peter Woodward, 13 in 51-kg, and Brad Whitwell, 16 in 54-kg won their weight divisions at the Minneapolis 2000 Golden Glovers last week.

While that young trio disposed of two opponents apiece, Jeremy Laquette, 10 in the 34-kg and Cody Hanna, 16 in the 63.5-kg, each had to fight just one opponent to win their division.

Alliance silver medallists included Matt Starr, 10, David Lao, 13, Shane Brown, 12 and Michael Hart, 12.

“Our focus is on developing the young inner-city kids,” Collins said. “We take great pleasure in helping these inner-city kids from the urban sports program at out Norquay Community Centre.”

“Fortunately our program has produced some national champions.”

Collins, a long time volunteer, has been known to kip into his pockets and help many a youngster in the past.


Little boxing gym in city is a big hit with youths

Winnipeg Free Press
Inner City Voices
Mike Maunder and Virginia Maracie

A little gym in the city’s north end produced a national boxing champion this week – 15-year-old Jason Courchene.

Courchene earned the gold medal for 15-and 16-year olds in the Canadian Junior National Championships held by the Canadian Amateur Boxing Association in Montreal last weekend.

He boxes for Winnipeg Native Alliance out of a tiny gym in Point Douglas, near Norquay Community Club. The ring takes up the buildings entire main floor. In the basement, there’s punching bags, training equipment, and kids all over.

The ring, the equipment and the inspiration all come from volunteer coach Mark Collins.

Collins works for Via Rail during the day and opens the gym every night for kids from all over the city. On Mondays, up to 20 kids fill the gym, coming from Native Alliance programs in West Broadway, and Lord Selkirk areas. On other nights, kids drop in from the neighbourhood. Collins picks up several kids from group homes around the city. Many train regularly.

Kosta Shirkov, 15, came from Montreal straight to Collins’ club a month ago. “My coach in Montreal told me he’s the best in Winnipeg,” he said. In the last seven years, Collins’ kids have taken nine national championships. Their photos are plastered all over the club’s walls.

“I’ve operated clubs all over the city, but now that I’m in the core I love it,” he says. “These are really good kids.”

Stormy Roach, 14, lives in Point Douglas and comes because she thinks boxing is cool.

“It’s helped me to just walk away when I have trouble with kids in gangs,” she said. So far, she’s fought five tournament fights, winning three.

AS well as training three hours a night, Courchene spends many weekends on road trips top tournaments, and handles a full course load at Kildonan East Collegiate studying computers, science and carpentry.

He credits boxing with giving him goals and keeping him out of trouble. He started with Collins when he was 12.

“At first, I just wanted to spar,” he said, “but then I started learning technique.”

As for his recent gold medal, it’s fine, but he’s most proud that now his picture is going up on the clubhouse wall.


Courchene making most of ring gold

Winnipeg Sun
Jim Bender

Success with his furious fists has featured just how far an inner-city youth can rise off the canvas of a life that could have headed elsewhere.

Winnipeg’s Jason Courchene won his second boxing gold medal in as many years to become a local hero.

“He’s really turned his life around and he’s also become quite the role model for the inner-city kids at our club (Alliance) because he comes from the same background,” says Mark Collins, Courchene’s coach. “He’s a two-time champion and he’s going to Poland for an International meet.”

“These kids see that something like this can be (a reality) for them, too. So, he’s a really strong influence,”

Courchene, 16, won the national junior championship last year, then beat older boxers to win the intermediate belt this year.

“A lot of kids look up to me at the gym,” he says. “I showed them my gold medal and they all wanted to try it on.”

And this could just be the start of a bagful of medals for the young pugilist with such potential. One of the youngest members of the national team, Courchene will participate in his very first international card in Poland, April 9 – 16.

“That’s a long way for an aboriginal from the North End,” Collins says. “But boxers need to experience the highest level of competition and this is a bonus for him. He will be competing against the best boxers in the world and that’s where they see what it takes to get to the next level.”

Courchene is targeting the next Pan Am Games and the 2003 Commonwealth Games, with an eye to the Olympics. And he’s hoping Poland will be a stepping-stone.

“Basically I want to get some international experience and see how they fight in other countries,” says the 6-forr-1, 140-lb Grade 11 student, who has also boosted his average to about 70 per cent.

Courchene boasts a 36 – 4 record, including 15 straight wins since November 1998. And Collins credited his sponsor Fitness City, where he keeps fit.

Meanwhile, another Winnipeg boxer, Kent Brown, lost a 60-kg bout at an Olympic qualifying boxing tourney in Tampa, Fla., earlier this week. Brown, who suffered a dislocated thumb in the first round, will have two more chances to qualify, however.


Promising pugilist looking for a little more polish

Winnipeg Free Press
Martin Zeilig

If it hadn’t been for the firm hand of his father, plus a natural ability for boxing, Chad Brisson would probably be behind bards today.

“Most of the guys he (Brisson) used to hang around with are in prison,” says Mark Collins, head coach of the Winnipeg Native Alliance Boxing Club in Point Douglas. Collins has coached Brisson since he first walked into the Iron Works Fitness Centre some five years ago.

When he was just 13 years old, Brisson was already a member of a youth gang, explains Collins, stressing that Brisson was on the track for trouble if he hadn’t become involved with Boxing.

“I brought Chad up from scratch. He walked into the gym with his dad and started to get into boxing and won 14 fights in a row,” says Collins, noting that Brisson’s father had to take his son out of the school he was attending at the time because of the intimidating gang activity.

“I told his dad that if he stuck with it, he’d be a national champ one day. He made a choice to stay in sports.”

Earlier this moth, Brisson, 18, won the 60-kilogram division at the Commonwealth Games boxing trials in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He overwhelmed his opponent, Montreal resident John Kellman, outpointing him 24-2. Kellman, a 33-year-oldnative of the Caribbean, competed in the 1996 Olympic games.

“Everything he’s (Brisson) done, he’s worked for. He’s earned everything he’s got,” says Collins.

“He’s a very dedicated athlete with a lot f inner strength. He’s slowly becoming the complete picture.”

Stuart Sutherland, head coach of the Crescentwood Boxing Club, calls Brisson one of the most talented amateur fighters in Canada. In order to sharpen his skills, he discloses that Brisson sometimes spars at Crescentwood with local professional pugilist Mark Riggs – a former national amateur champion in his native Ireland.

“Chad’s very strong and skilled,” says Sutherland. “He’s definitely going to go a long way in boxing.”

Brisson is the only Manitoban on Canada’s national boxing team.

“His strongest point is he comes to fight. If you step into the ring with him, you’d better be ready to fight,” says Collins, revealing that Brisson has had around 70 bouts so far.

“He’s got all the tools. He can take a guy out with either hand. He’s never been down on the canvas.”

Brisson competed at the 1996 World Junior Boxing Championships in Cuba, at a multi-country competition in Nova Scotia, and in a 20 nation-boxing tournament in Hungary in 1996. He won a bronze medal in his category at the later meet.

“But, he’s come a long way since then,” says Collins, who mentions that Brisson also won a gold medal at the Canadian Youth Boxing Championships in St. Johns, Newfoundland in 1996, where he was also chosen the best boxer at the event.

“We’re on a three-year plan now, and we’re ahead of schedule.”

Besides the Commonwealth Games in Indonesia this September, that plan includes the 1999 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg and the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney, Australia.

Despite his accomplishments so far, Brisson concedes that he’s still not as polished a pugilist as he’d like to be.

“I want to learn as much about boxing as I can before turning pro after the year 2000,” says Brisson, emphasizing that he gets a lot of support from his friends and family.


Boxing coach up for the fight of his life

Collins committed to making fledgling club work in Point Douglas area despite naysayers

The Times
Jim Timlick

When Mark Collins made it known he wanted to start a boxing club in the Point Douglas area, the reaction he got hit him harder than a Mike Tyson uppercut.

“A lot of people when I mentioned I was coming into the Point Douglas area said you must be crazy. It kind of shocked me,” he said.

“There is good and bad everywhere. If anything, this is an area that needs something like this. That’s the problem – there’s not too many people who would make an effort to come in here. I know coming from a low income family and being a visible minority what these kids are going through. This gives me a feeling of doing something good here.”

Collins opened the Winnipeg Native Alliance Urban Sports Boxing Club last month in what used to be the Norquay Community Centre on Beaconsfield Avenue.

A service attendant with Via Rail, Collins had been operating a boxing club out of Ironworks Fitness Centre on Nairn Avenue. He was forced to look for a different location last November when the new owners of the centre required the spaced his club occupied.

A few weeks later he met Troy Rupert, the executive director of the Winnipeg Native Alliance, an agency that works with inner city youths.

Rupert was trying to get a boxing program started at Turtle Island Recreational Centre. He offered Collins the use of the old Norquay Community Centre free of charge.

“Our mandate is basically to expose youth to positive choices and an alternative to gang activities and negative choices,” Rupert said.

“We asked kids in our program what they would like to do in sports. Boxing was one of the big ones. It sparked a lot of interest. (And) we knew Mark had a good reputation and a good track record.

Some of Collin’s old pupils have followed him to the new location, including recently crowned Canadian champion Chad Brisson.

However, Collins says one of his main priorities is getting inner city kids involved in the club.

“That’s one of the reasons why we offer the program to every kid from 10 to 14 at no cost. The only thing they have to pay is a $5 registration fee,” he said.

“This gives them an alternative to what’s on the street. This way they have a place to come and a structured environment.”

Collins, who lives in the North End, was a pretty decent amateur boxer himself. In 1979, he won a bronze medal at the Canada Summer Games.

His first passion, however, was hockey.

“I played four years with the St. Boniface Saints. My last year of junior I had 110 points and 350 penalty minutes, “ he said laughingly.


Boxer preparing for the fight of his life

The Herald
Jim Timlick

It was the promise of travel that initially lured Jason Courchene into the boxing ring.

Now, Courchene is about to embark on a trip he never would have dreamed of when he first strapped on a pair of gloves four years ago. The 16-year-old Elmwood product was recently selected to represent Canada at an international boxing tournament April 11- 16 in Poland.

“I had some friends (Chad Brisson and Mike Fenner) who boxed. They told me they were going on all these trips and how much fun it was,” Courchene said during a recent workout at the Alliance Boxing Club at Norquay Community Centre.

“They brought me down to the club one day to see what was going on. I loved it and I’ve been coming down to the gym every day since.”

Courchene is the only Manitoban on the 12-member national team that will compete in Poland against fighters from Russia, France and Sweden. He’s also one of the youngest fighters on the Canadian squad.

A Senior 3 student at Kildonan East School, he was named to the team after winning his second straight national championship this past January in St. Catharines, Ont. He won the light welterweight title his first year as an intermediate. He won the junior light welterweight crown at last year’s nationals.

“This was my first year of intermediate. Everybody was 18 and I was 16. I was pretty nervous. I felt like I had a lot of pressure. Once I got in the ring I felt very good. I put all that other stuff aside,” he said.

This is the first time Courchene has been chosen to fight internationally. He’s hoping to use the opportunity to learn what it takes to compete at the next level. A veteran of 40 amateur bouts already, he’s looking to land a spot on the Canadian team that will participate in the 2003 Commonwealth Games.

“Yeah, I’m starting to get a little nervous. Chad told me I’ve got to look at it as just another fight. My opponent’s got two arms. I’ve got two arms. He’s got two legs; I’ve got two legs. As long as I know I tried my hardest I’ll be happy.” He said.

“I’m going to fight the best in the world and it will give me a chance to see what it’s all about at that level. It’ll be good to see how I do at their level and what I have to do at that level. I think this will help me improve a lot as a fighter.”

Courchene has already improved a lot as a fighter. He boasts a 36-4 record and is perfect 15-0 since November of 1998. He’s also won three medals at nationals during that time including one silver and two golds. That improvement hasn’t come easy, though. Courchene spends as much as four or five hours a day training in the ring and at Fitness City, one of his sponsors.

“I think he’s matured quite a bit as a fighter. He’s a lot more focused now,” said Mark Collins, Courchene’s coach.

“I think this trip is really going to help him. Every boxer I’ve had who’s’ come back from an international competition has come back a better boxer. It opens you up to a lot of different styles and what the top kids in the world are successful at. Maybe you are doing the same things but you’re not doing them good enough.”

Courchene has matured outside the ring as well. A self-confessed problem child, he now works just as hard in the classroom as h does in the ring and had bumped up his average to about 70 per cent. He’s also become a role model for many of the inner-city youth who train at the Alliance Boxing Club in the Point Douglas area.

“Boxing is a real positive thing in my life. My coach and other people have put a lot of time and effort into me. I don’t want to feel like I’ve let them down, “ he said.

“It’s (boxing) very time-consuming. If you are serious about it you’ve got to focus on it and put a lot of time into it. You can’t let other stuff distract you.


Kids get fighting chance to grow

The Globe and Mail
Laura Robinson

The University of Winnipeg isn’t normally the venue for the Alliance Boxing Club. The young members are from the roughest and most dangerous section of the city, where the Indian Posse and Manitoba Warriors and their junior gangs recruit.

But until Sunday, the university’s Duckworth Centre is the boxing venue of the North American Indigenous Games, and the 12 members of the Alliance who qualified for the games are cleaning up. By their second last day of competition, they had won nine gold medals and still have three more athletes fighting.

“If you coach kids from the suburbs and they get in the ring for a fight, it’s the first time they’ve been hit,” Alliance coach and founder Mark Collins said. “These kids are experienced fighters before they come to us. It’s our job to give them experiences as human beings and teach them the skills they’ll need to grown in their lives outside of sport.”

The Indigenous Games, which have attracted more than 6,000 young people, are filled with athletes who must clear plenty of hurdles just to get to the start line. Erica Maytwayashing, a 98-pound 15-year-old, was nine when Collins met her on the street. She says she loves boxing because it’s so much fun, and she’s good at it – she recently won a silver medal at the Canadian championships – but there are other advantages.

“I like to travel, it’s so exciting,” Erica said. “You have friends in the United States and Canada, but girls need to protect themselves. They can get jumped or mugged.”

She says school can be scary if you don’t know what you’re doing. “I’m small, so another girl said she wanted to fight me, and I told her, ‘Do you know who I am?’” Erica said. “The other kids said to her, ‘Leave her alone,’ and she walked away. She was lucky.”

Erica was watching as a teammate took on a boxer from New Mexico. “Finish strong, finish strong.” The little bundle of energy shouted as she played with the gold medal around her neck. “Don’t step back.”

When Erica was 12, her mother died, and she doesn’t mention a father. She and her six brothers and sisters live with her grandmother amid gangs and violence. They try to get back whenever possible to the Dog Creek reserve outside Winnipeg, where family members live.

The truth is these children can’t afford to take a step back. Winnipeg has the most native gangs in Canada, and they are ruthlessly violent.

“Ninety-five per cent of our membership is native,” Collins said after his boxers have finished for the day, “ and 95 per cent of them live on social assistance with one relative. A number of our kids live with their grandmothers.”

“They come to the gym with a social and economic disadvantage, and that’s where we come in, because they also have a real advantage. They have the will to win, incredible determination and commitment. These are tangible assets kids from the suburbs with two parents and a minivan can’t match.”

For the past two years, Canadian Heritage has given a total of $60,000 in grants to the Alliance club. The club is run 100 percent by volunteers. It has a 14-member board of directors, a partnership program that includes free physicals at a local medical clinic and donations from Via Rail where Collins works.

Collins had dedicated more than 10 years to getting youth off the street and into the ring; even thought hockey was his sport as he grew up. But he says it doesn’t matter which sport kids play; they learn from the experience.

“When I played hockey, I was called nigger, I heard it all, and decided to rise above,” he said, adding that growing up as an African Canadian allows him to understand what his athletes face every day. But so did the economic conditions he survived.

“We were on welfare,” he said. “ I know what it feels like to open the fridge and find nothing in it.”

Collins and the athletes are packing up equipment and preparing for an evening of cultural events at the Forks. Erica stands up. Her tiny frame swims in her sweatsuit. She looks down at her gold medal. “I’m dedicating this to the people of Dog Creek,” she says. “My people.”


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