The creation of any new sports club seems to be hooked on the notion that it will one day produce the next great one. At Reading's Inner City Boxing Club, the aim is far more humble.
At the Sept. 2 grand opening of the club located inside the club house at Baer Park on Douglass St. more than 100 people signed up and organizers hope that enthusiasm is a sign of a changing neighborhood, not just a renewed interest in boxing.
Fitness equipment, a fresh coat of paint and a rudimentary boxing ring are set up inside the club house.
A couple punching bags are bolted to the walls, but the banners and plaques on the walls of the dated club building hail accomplishments from days long ago. It's evident years - if not decades - of neglect have been erased with just a little hard work.
Perhaps with some follow-through, the club's impact can add some new life into those faded banners and dusty plaques.
"We have good kids, we just need to keep them involved," Reading City Councilwoman Maria Baez said at the busy grand opening.
Baez' comments echoed those integral to any success the new club will have.
It is one thing to have a big grand opening, and perhaps produce that next great hype. It's another to impact the community, which is this boxing club's true aim.
Reading's newest boxing club is free for residents. Classes will be offered three times a day (3:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m., and 7:30 p.m.) on week-days. Registration organizer Michael Melendez said classes will be broken up according to skill levels, and that any novice can attend and won't be turned away from getting in the ring.
About one year ago, Reading Mayor Tom McMahon approached city Diversity Officer Joe Ayala with the idea of creating a boxing club in Reading.
Just more than 40 years ago, Ayala began training as a boxer, and can remember what the sport's impact had.
"It kept us off the streets," Ayala said, visibly proud of the success enjoyed on Inner City Boxing Club's first day. "This is a dream for me."
Ayala said he took McMahon's idea and did research on other cities creating boxing clubs with notions of breaking up gangs, not necessarily developing prize fighters.
Everyone at the club's opening agreed the neighborhood, which looked the farthest from seedy this sun-baked, blazing hot September afternoon, needed a change.
The boxing club, according to Baez, is the first of several new initiatives she'd like to introduce that gets prospective gang members pre-occupied with other activities.
"It's needed in Reading," Lindsay Bates, another registration organizer, said. "any drawing card you can get to get a kid off the street. The kids need something to do."
Bates remembers Reading 20 years ago, and thanks his time in the military - and in organized sports, too - with keeping him from heading toward of life of crime. He enlisted and served with the 82nd Airborne Division and currently works as a full-time welder.
He said he hopes that new recruits to Inner City Boxing Club will draw some inspiration from those who escaped a tougher life here.
"When they look at me, they look in the mirror," Bates said, expanding on the club's potential impact.
Ayala said he hopes the enthusiasm generated from the grand opening will continue and that it produces its own role models and recruits new people from the tougher-than-ever Reading streets.
"This isn't about knocking heads," he said. "It's a very controlle environment."
Really, club organizers don't have to go far to find the gym's first role model.
It was hard to miss the gleam bouncing from the gold of Sharline Mendez' numerous championship belts. The act Mendez must remember just to get all her belts and medals on for a photograph deserves a medal itself. An assistant helps her as she writhes into one belt, buckling another piece of championship hardware around her waist at the same time.
Mendez lives "just up the block" from Baer Park, and is reigning Golden Gloves champion. She's got eyes on being the next Berks County Olympian at the 2012 London Games, if women's boxing is added for the first time in history. She even has eyes on "turning pro," she said.
Though she currently trains outside Reading, she will call Inner City Boxing Club home on weekends, and her early-life credentials can't help but serve as inspiration for anyone from this gritty neighborhood. Even at her young age, Mendez understands the impact the sport has made on her life, and not just in the amount of medals and belts she can attach t herself.
"I think it's cool. It keeps kids out of trouble," Mendez said. "If I wasn't doing this, Lord knows where I'd be."
According to Ayala, the hardest part of bringing Inner City Boxing Club together was paying for the ring and then assembling it.
He credited a dedicated group of volunteers for learning how to put the ring together. Commerce Bank donated $2,500 to fund its construction.
The city's Public Works Department donated paint for the project.
Ayala also stressed that each club member must sign a Code of Conduct, ensuring they will steer clear of alcohol and drugs and maintain thei grades. He also wants to host regular family nights at the club to keep members and the community's interest peaked.