Sunday, March 14, 2004

This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times today. It just shows what people can do for each other when they care. I think it speaks for itself:

Illiteracy on the ropes
Persevering boxer Tyrone Booze is simultaneously passing on his love of reading and punching to the next generation of fighters.
By MEGAN SCOTT, Times Staff Writer
Published March 14, 2004


CLEARWATER - In one corner, there is a boxing ring, a couple of speed bags and some head gear and gloves. Two heavy bags containing sand swing gently from the ceiling.

On the other side of the room, there are new computers with special software to help children enhance their reading and math skills.

A set of World Book Encyclopedias are stacked behind the boxing ring. On another side are boxes of books waiting to be unpacked.

On one wall, someone has painted: Yes, You Can Learn to Read.

The opposite wall has pictures of boxing champions such as Muhammad Ali and Evander Holyfield.

Tyrone Booze stands in the middle of the ring.

His championship belt and silver cup are on the card table behind him.

It's Thursday night and a crowd has gathered.

For Booze, this night is the fulfillment of a dream. He has found a way to bring together his two loves: boxing and reading.

He watched Muhammad Ali knock out George Foreman. Ali was his idol.

Even now, a poster of Ali standing over a downed Sonny Liston hangs on the wall in the gym. Booze auctioned off a pair of autographed gloves from the former heavyweight champion as part of the fundraising for the Smart Fighter Institute.

Booze admired Ali not only for his boxing prowess, but because of what the champ stood for. Ali stood against the Vietnam War, and he accepted his punishment from the U.S. government.

When he was 8, Booze found his second home at the Belleview Square Boys Club, the neighborhood recreation center where he first learned to box.

While other boys in his Hartford, Conn., neighborhood were hanging out at the basketball court, Booze spent his afternoons in the boxing ring. He also trained - running, jumping rope, and hitting the speed bag. Sometimes he even hit trees - without gloves.

Boxing became his life.

He had dreams of making millions of dollars.

Booze graduated from high school in 1975 and began his professional boxing career. But he was a disadvantaged fighter, said Mort Sharnik, a former boxing writer for Sports Illustrated who now lives in Treasure Island.

"You have to have powerful people behind you," he said. "He never got the right fights because of his managers. A lot of managers who were looking for a good opponent who could put up a good fight but couldn't win turned to Booze."

Booze was too small for heavyweight. Too big for light heavyweight. His weight fluctuated from 190 to 220 pounds, making him a cruiserweight.

He didn't do much dancing around the ring. His strategy was simple: Knock people out.

"He was very aggressive," said Cal Calloway, one of his former boxing trainers. "He would meet you and try to walk right through you. He had a thunderous left hook that could put you to sleep."

Booze believed he could beat anybody, and he showed it.

He talked trash as much as the next fighter. When he was in the ring, those dimples in his cheeks disappeared. He got that look in his eye. He was ready.

Booze spent most of his time waiting to get fights. Most of them were overseas, in countries such as England, Germany and even South Africa. He fought Evander Holyfield in 1983 but lost by split decision.

When he moved to Clearwater in 1989, he began training at the Fourth Street gym in St. Petersburg. He met his wife, Tina, at a submarine shop on Cleveland Street.

Booze defeated Derek Angol on July 25, 1992, to win the WBO World Cruiserweight boxing championship. He lost the title the following year.

In 1998, he fought Jesse Ferguson and lost.

It would be his last fight.

Through his success and failure as a boxer, Booze kept a secret.

He could barely read.

In school, while other kids were studying, he was boxing or playing ball. He calls it, "gaming, messing around."

When Booze began boxing, he trusted his managers to read his contract. Some of them cheated him out of more than half his prize money. He relied on his wife to help him.

He never blamed his teachers. He took responsibility.

With his career over, he faced a decision: Keep faking it or face up to it.

"I thought, "What am I going to do with my life?,' " Booze said. "It's like any guy who steps out of the spotlight, what does this young man or young woman have to fall back on?"

In 1999, Booze walked into the Community Learning Center on N Fort Harrison Avenue and told people there he could barely read and write.

The learning center, which is based on L. Ron Hubbard's writings and teachings, provides free remedial reading to people of all ages.

"I think in life when you ask for help, some people say it's a weakness," he said. "I don't think it's a sign of weakness. I needed some help."

Booze worked with a private tutor for the next three years. He went there daily, in between his job working for Pinellas County facilities management and raising his two children, Sharee, now 12, and Tyrone, 10.

Tina Booze says her husband reads anything he can get his hands on.

He still carries a dictionary in his blue bag. His favorite author: Langston Hughes.

He now has two passions: reading and boxing.

Sharnik remembers Booze talking about those two things all the time. One day, he said to Booze, "There's no reason why you can't combine the two." Booze came up with the concept for the Smart Fighter Institute three years ago. With his wife's strong encouragement, he launched a pilot program last year with about 15 students.

Now with the Smart Fighter Institute about to open on Garden Avenue in a few days, Booze has taken the entire week off to put on the finishing touches.

"His wife has become as obsessed as he is," Sharnik said. "I've been with him, encouraging him more than anything else. You listen to him, and you're moved to tears. I think it's a very difficult thing he's doing. He's certainly dedicated."

The return
Booze, now 45, is back in the ring again.

He weighs about 260 pounds, but he still believes he can fight - if his wife lets him.

Thursday was the grand opening reception for the Smart Fighter Institute, located on the second floor of TBT Gym, 205 N Garden Ave. The students, who range in age from 10 to 18, start Monday and must be referred by a school counselor or teacher.

Josue Cordero, 15, is eager to start swinging. He was the first one to sign up, having heard about the program from a teacher at Highland Christian Academy.

At 135 pounds, Jose is definitely a lightweight.

"I want to have an education," says Josue, who lives in Clearwater. "I also like the training part. I like learning how to defend myself, getting in shape."

Calloway, who came up in the days of Joe Louis, was at the reception with another young fighter he is training. He has trained boxers such as Pinklon Thomas, who lost to Mike Tyson in 1987.

He compares boxing to martial arts. Both require discipline and confidence.

Booze ventures over to one of the large punching bags and throws a few punches. The bag swings ever so slightly.

He says boxing has lost some of its appeal, as people such as Ali, Holyfield, Joe Frazier and Foreman grow older and retire. He remembers when you could watch a match for free on public television. Now one can cost as much as $50.

"I miss it," says Booze. "I think every athlete has a time in his life when he misses it and thinks he can still do it. At that time, boxing was what I was into. That was my love."

Now, it's all about education. And reading.

Booze stresses that this program is about literacy more than boxing. The boxing is a tool to get them interested in learning.

Indeed, he has come a long way.

As he stands in the ring, he watches all the people who gathered to show their support. He speaks about his literacy problem. And he sends them a message:

"The most important thing is your education," he says. "It is your true freedom to life. We're going to make this program the best in the world."

More Information on L. Ron Hubbard Study Technology

Scientology Study Technology: Effective Education and Training
L. Ron Hubbard, The Humanitarian - Education
Revolution in Learning; Freedom Magazine
Education - The Fatal Flaw; Freedom Magazine

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