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Old-school gym, modern mindset

By Jim Sheahan (Poughkeepsie Journal) - 2/13/2007

The nearly 200-year-old building was once used to repair trolleys that crisscrossed the city.

The dungeon-like basement was used as a bomb shelter during the war years.

Now, this cavernous space, with its 20-foot-high ceilings, banks of angled skylights, whitewashed brick walls and huge floor-to-ceiling cement pillars will house something the City of Poughkeepsie hasn’t seen in a long, long time.

A boxing gym.

Led by brothers John and Bill Calogero, Snoops Boxing Gym expects to open next week at 489 Main St., right next to the city’s new public safety building.

“I’ve always loved boxing, and my brother had been telling me for a couple of years that we should open a gym,” Bill Calogero said. “Just in the last few months, it has really come together. If half of the people who’ve shown interest actually come, we’ll be fine.”

The facility is old, which is suitable for a boxing gym, but the Calogero brothers’ mentality is not. The business will cater to professional fighters — like some of the 15 Bill Calogero has in his stable as a boxing promoter — and it will also serve women, teens, youths and anyone else who is interested in using boxing training as a way to be fit.

“There might be a stationary bike in here, but not a whole row of them,” Bill Calogero said. “It’s a boxing gym. We’ll have heavy bags, speeds bags, areas to skip rope, two rings and we’ll offer classes.”

Interestingly, the brothers, who are 10 years apart, don’t share a love of boxing. Bill, the eldest, has been a promoter for about 20 years, mostly as a hobby, and considers himself something of a boxing historian. John, a father of four who lives in Pleasant Valley, has never really had an interest in boxing.

The brothers co-own LaGrange Supply, and with spring around the corner, they’re pushing to get the gym up and running before it gets too busy back at the LaGrange office.

“To me, it’s about putting food on the table,” John Calogero said. “But every time they’re talking about boxing, I kind of lean in to listen, because I want to learn about it.”

Professional help

Fortunately for the brothers, the opportunity to learn will be there every day in the form of Ron Lipton, a former professional boxing referee who lives in Hyde Park. Lipton, who was a sparring partner for greats such as Dick Tiger in his younger days, has volunteered to be the executive director and chief trainer at Snoops. He teaches a popular boxing class at Marist College.

He’s a walking boxing encyclopedia.

“It’s my dream to work with young people and pass on the knowledge I have before it’s too late,” said Lipton, who also has been a boxing choreographer for stage and screen.

“I want Poughkeepsie to be a safe place again. I want the kids to have a place to go. And I don’t want drugs, weapons or any kind of disrespect anywhere near me,” he said.

Snoops is the latest tenant in Poughkeepsie’s 400 block, once infamous for having dilapidated buildings that housed petty crime and illegal drug use.

“It’s a very interesting building; that’s the old trolley house,” Poughkeepsie Mayor Nancy Cozean said. “The city has wonderful history. As you move down into the 500 block, with these new changes, Barrett Clay Works makes a lot more sense now, the Clinton House is put into perspective, the Glebe House is put into perspective. We’re just thrilled.”

Bill Calogero says he’s spoken to a few of his pro fighters already, and they’re excited about having the opportunity to train with Lipton. It is yet to be seen, however, how many will make the move to Poughkeepsie. In the meantime, he hopes to get some young Poughkeepsie amateurs going in their boxing careers.

Tournament is targeted

“This time of year is Golden Gloves time,” Bill Calogero said, referring to the amateur tournament held in the New York metro area. “By this time next year, I hope to have a Poughkeepsie kid fighting in the Golden Gloves.”

A typical membership at Snoops costs $55 a month, which includes complete access to the gym, plus free access to one class per month. Other classes will include nominal fees. Equipment will be available for purchase, and several memberships have been sold already, as word of the gym’s opening has spread through word of mouth.

If you think you’re going to be sparring by this time next month, however, think again. Lipton, who spent a great portion of his teen years in historic boxing gyms such as The Arena in Newark, N.J., and Gleason’s in New York City, is a stickler for safety.

“In the gyms I was in as a kid, you had to spend six months on the floor before you ever got in the ring,” Lipton said. “Here, it’s not like two guys are going to be sparring while I’m training someone else. No sparring happens unattended. It will all be scheduled.”

Even though Lipton is clearly an old-school boxing guy, he’s rigid about integrity and respect.

“I’m not going to tolerate any drug use or cursing,” said Lipton, a retired police officer who spent five years on the narcotics’ squad. “And I’m not going to tolerate any girls being bothered. For the kids who come in, if they don’t have a family, I’ll be their family. If they don’t have anyone to talk to, they can talk to me.”

Calogero and Lipton plan to speak with local youth groups in order to help some young people make better decisions in their lives.

“I was a roughneck,” Lipton said. “I want to save the kids the anguish of what I went through. Don’t give the police a hard time. I’m not on a white horse, I’m not a goody two-shoes and I’m not your grandma. Put down the guns, the knives, put on the gloves and learn something you can be proud of.”

While the first batch of boxing equipment arrives today, the process of making the gym into what the brothers are envisioning will probably go on for months.

Work in progress

The brothers are adamant about not having people “hanging around” in the gym, so a wall will go up at the entrance to provide a viewing area for parents and other family members. A juice bar is planned as well, and work continued even this week on the men’s and women’s locker rooms.

One floor ring will go in this week, and an elevated 20-by-20 ring is expected to arrive in 8-10 weeks, Bill Calogero said.

“Eventually we hope to have tournaments, maybe one school against another,” Bill Calogero said. “Maybe we end up with a pro from Poughkeepsie, and we fill up the Civic Center.”

Televisions will go up around the gym so Lipton can utilize his extensive video library of great fighters and great fights as an educational tool.

Plans call for the gym to be open from 10 a.m.-10 p.m., six days a week. But if the clientele wants to work out at dawn ...

“Then we’ll open at dawn,” John Calogero said.

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