Cubs players and fans watched teen boxers such as Ivry Hall and Jonathon Hampton trade blows and exchange handshakes and hugs during Joe Maddon’s Respect 90 Main Event fundraiser at the historic Wintrust Bank Building on Thursday night.
The first time Hall, 17, of Englewood, boxed in front of famous athletes and business people at the charity event three years ago, he was nervous, but not this time. Asked about his opponent in Thursday’s exhibition, Hall shrugged, “I don’t even know. Just got to be prepared.”
The bottom line for Hall is the fight was just one more step away from gang life and toward his goal of becoming a Golden Gloves boxer. That’s what the night was about for the event’s guests, such as outfielder Jason Heyward, who bid $11,000 to buy a pair of Muhammad Ali‘s gloves, as well as for Joe and Jaye Maddon, whose Respect 90 Foundation seeks to teach children life skills through sports, academics and community service. The event raised $230,000.
“Any time you’re doing something for kids it’s always important,” Maddon said. “We’re kind of into boxing. It’s a great venue, a great method to bring attention to the inner city, kids on the South Side in particular.
“They’re the stars, man.”
Maddon is known as an aficionado of the sweet science, but he also likes its inherent lessons for young people.
“My perception is there’s a lot of self-discipline involved. And you’re teaching self-awareness and self-discipline, that’s always a good thing,” he said.
“So if you get a kid and you show him how to be accountable to a difficult workout and a method — boxing itself there’s so much technique involved — so there’s all these micro-lessons involved in participating in this sport that once they leave I believe is going to help them significantly in their lives.”
Hall has been learning those lessons since his mother died of cancer when he was 12 and it helped motivate him to leave gang life and join Crushers Club, Sally Hazelgrove’s non-profit boxing program for at-risk boys in Englewood.
Hazelgrove recalled how Ivry was “hell on wheels. Oh yeah, he was a nightmare. I kicked him out like five times and then I would pull him back. I do that in the beginning sometimes; I have show them that I’m tougher than that.” But Hall became a straight-A, honor roll student and mentors younger members of the program. “He’s a rock star,” she said.
Hall, who won his exhibition bout Thursday night, said he slipped into crime at a young age when he grew frustrated with his mother’s struggles putting food on the table for him and his brothers and sisters. “I said, ‘I don’t like this,’ so I started hustling, I started robbing people, selling drugs — I started doing everything to get any kind of money. I lied to my mom and said I found the money.”
Hall became a gang member at 8 and drug dealer at 9. “I shot at people before — everything — at a young, young age,” said Hall, who plans to fight the Golden Gloves circuit with an eye on nationals.
But his attitude changed when his mother died. “I’m not saying it’s good that she’s gone, but that’s a motivation to keep me pushing.”
Hall added, “When I get in the ring, I just know, like, if I box, I box all the pain out. I could cry about it every day but it’s like if I stay strong and stay in the gym and work and do what I gotta do to win, that will help me out. Boxing plays a major part and there’s a lot of things that help me keep pushing.”