A Voice in Your Corner

Tony Montoya trains Jesus Zamarripa, known at the Waco Boxing Club as “Pulga,” the Spanish word for flea. The Waco Boxing Club in Waco, Texas trains children and adults of all ages nearly every weekday of the year. Some aim to compete in local and national tournaments, while others simply seek personal improvement.                                                                                              Photo by Chris Derrett.

[slideshow custom=true] Story by Matt Larsen

Photos by Belle Jiao, Chris Derrett and Matt Hellman

Bologna sandwiches and a gallon of orange juice split 12 ways.

Not exactly Wheaties, but for the Waco Boxing Club, it was enough.

From nights spent at rest stops with 12 kids packed into a 15-passenger van to throwing down pillows and crashing in the ring after shedding the gloves, Waco Boxing Club owner Tony Montoya carries a program with a history of humility, hard work and building futures worth living for.

Montoya walks a path blazed by a man whose name stands inseparable from Waco Boxing Club: Gilbert Sanchez Sr.

In addition to founding the club in his garage, Sanchez founded in Montoya the heart for encouragement and respect he thrives on.

“A kid without a dad? That’s what you want,” Montoya said.

The Waco Boxing Club in its early days under Gilbert Sanchez Sr. Tony Montoya (fourth from the right, in front) began boxing thanks to his older brothers.                                 Courtesy photo.

After losing his biological father at age 1, Montoya followed his brothers into the world of boxing and found Sanchez to be the voice of affirmation he needed.

As it turned out, Montoya had another key voice continually ringing from his corner.

Assistant coach Johnny Garcia quickly became that second force tugging Montoya out of a lifestyle pointing toward prison or worse.

To teach discipline, provide conditioning and raise money, Garcia pulled in his young boxers to help with a paper route, rain or shine. Montoya recalls going to bed at midnight some nights and waking up at 2 a.m. to head to The Waco Tribune-Herald to help rubber band, bag and toss newspapers from the back of Garcia’s truck. The conditioning came when it was time to leap from the truck bed, slip a bundled paper into a mailbox or two and run back without losing the truck.

Come afternoon, though, it was sometimes Garcia’s turn to chase down his flaky boxers to keep them off the streets. Montoya and company would see Garcia and Sanchez’s van turning the corner up ahead and scamper behind trees.

“They wouldn’t run from us. They wouldn’t disrespect us,” he said. “But if we weren’t there, they were gone.”

Garcia and Montoya now serve as the Waco Boxing Club’s two primary coaches and laugh about the afternoon pursuits. Montoya, however, could not be more thankful for the time Garcia spent in pursuit of him.

Montoya more willingly hopped in the van for the endless road trips to competitions as far as Ohio and California.

Here the boys saw a different side of their coaches.

To keep his young boxers from turning the back of the 15-passenger into a makeshift ring, Garcia would find ways to entertain everybody in the van.

“I heard on the news they got a guy out here riding a white horse and he’s got a mask on and if you spot him you get $200,” he remembers telling them, grinning almost as brightly as his glasses catching the light.
“We would drive for 50, 60 miles with everybody up against the window. ‘Let me look. Let me look.”

While providing laughs and entertainment came easy for Garcia, he often found appeasing appetites more difficult. Garcia and Sanchez could not always afford the luxury of bologna and orange juice for every boxer in the van. Their pupils, however, never took the situations too seriously.

“Why don’t you just drive by Micky D’s window and let us just smell the damn hamburgers?” A kid Montoya coached said only half-jokingly on more than one occasion.

Dalyn Montoya, son of Waco Boxing Club owner Tony Montoya, prepares for another jab. Most of the Montoya family spends at least four evenings a week at the club. Photo by Chris Derrett

Son to Father

Though his coaches saw him going pro, a 16-year-old Montoya chose to apply the responsibility and fearlessness he learned in the ring in a different sphere of life. When his 15-year-old girlfriend Angela became pregnant, he chose to marry her and take on the role of father-providing for his family.

But four sons later, Montoya found himself drawn back to boxing and the opportunity to give back to the sport that changed his life.

He began to serve as an assistant coach at Waco Boxing Club under Gilbert Sanchez Jr., who inherited the reins to the club from his esteemed father. Though Sanchez Jr. would have to step away from the gym in 2009, Montoya refused to see “their father’s” vision go down without a fight. Thus, the plumber-by-day, boxer-by-night inherited a club with no funding and no place to work out.

And that’s where Stewart Parsons Jr. came in.

In the summer of 2009, Parson’s Roofing provided enough money to breathe life into the club and provide a physical space for a gym. Then the company did it again the following year and kept it coming this last year as well.

“Without them we wouldn’t have a gym right now,” said Angela Montoya, who spends the evening hours alongside her husband at the gym.

Though overflowing with the same character that both earns and demands respect, she puts most of her efforts into managing the club’s finances, leaving the coaching to her husband and Garcia. With their voluntary boxing club activities as often as seven days a week, Tony’s plumbing responsibilities six days a week and their four sons’ boxing, football and baseball schedules, the Montoyas find little down time. All six of them savor their yearly eight-day vacation to Port Aransas, though.

Between crabbing adventures and trying to outrun golf carts, Tony loves hearing his sons tell him how it’s the best time they’ve ever had in their lives.

Father to More Than Four

Raymond Palacios Jr. breaks long enough to down some water. Waco Boxing Club welcomes people of all ages. Photo by Belle Jiao

Three hundred and fifty-seven days a year, however, Montoya has many sons and daughters step through the door of his gym.

“My kids, they share me with all these kids,” he said. “They don’t get jealous. They don’t get mad. They don’t get upset. My kids, they’ve learned that.”

Just like his coach and father figure Sanchez, Montoya demands the utmost respect no matter whom he is training.

“We had barely said ‘hello’ and he came and pushed me like he knew me,” former Baylor point guard Tweety Carter said of his first workout with Montoya. “It was only 30 minutes, but I was done. After that I started going every day.”

A signed poster of the former Baylor star hangs on the wall at the Waco Boxing Club, but to everyone working out at the club, he is just another member of the family.

“He called me momma,” Angela Montoya said, a grin sliding across her lips.

Carter, who helped lead the Bears to their NCAA Elite 8 berth in 2010, trained this past summer at the Waco Boxing Club to prepare for his season with the Israeli league team Bnei Hasharon.

He vows to return every summer.

In addition to the workouts themselves, it’s the incessant encouragement that keeps Carter and just about every one of Montoya’s boxers coming back.

“My dream is to see one, two, three, four of these guys make it in life,” Montoya said.
“Get in their heads. Make them believe in themselves.”

For 21-year-old Antonio Castillo, it worked.

While he watches friends from high school find their way one by one to prison, he stares at a high school diploma and an associate’s degree from Texas State Technical College. He also works toward a second degree at McLennan County Community College. His collegiate efforts have in no way pushed boxing dreams from his mind, though, as the Waco native would like to step into professional boxing next year.

Like Montoya, Castillo grew up without his biological father in his life. Stumbling into the group at age 13, he found a second family.

“Tony is the dad, and Johnny is the grandpa,” he said, cracking a grin.

Fists clenched, Antonio Castillo (left) trains for his next fight at the Waco Boxing Club. For boxers with dreams of going pro, it can mean training as often as seven days a week. Photo by Belle Jiao

But with a 3-month old son, Castillo’s dreams go beyond boxing as well.

“I’ve seen a lot of things that make me want to come up to be a man,” he said, his feet dancing in place a little more than usual. “I don’t want to be like my dad. I want to be better than my dad. Just like when my son gets old, I want him to be better than me.”

Set on surpassing Sanchez Sr.’s desire for the boxing club to carry on after his death, Montoya won’t be retiring anytime soon.

Still, even the tireless fighter at heart rests. He rests from his encouraging shouts just long enough to appreciate the transformation he gets to witness in fighters like Castillo.

“That’s what makes me wake up and go to work nine hours a day, get changed, take a shower and come over here and work another three hours,” Montoya said. “I feel if I can save one, two, three, four of these kids and lead them in the right direction, then they will take three or four kids and lead them in the right direction and everything keeps carrying on.”

And if it’s up to Castillo, things will carry on. Round after round. Fight after fight.

Efrin Avilla Jr. tries the big gloves on for size. Photo by Chris Derrett

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