NIAGARA VOICES: Napper’s gym plays vital role in community

By Jeanne Glavac, Special to Postmedia Network

Napper's Boxing Club head coach Ray Napper works out with young boxer Calum Bowie, in this file photo at the club from 2014. Rory Soper/ Innervision Photography Niagara

Napper's Boxing Club head coach Ray Napper works out with young boxer Calum Bowie, in this file photo at the club from 2014. Rory Soper/ Innervision Photography Niagara

When you do something in this life, do you ever ask yourself: “Am I travelling on the right road, and does it all make sense?”

Since I’ve started writing about the positive things happening in my community of Welland, the answer has been reaffirmed time and time again.

Yes, I am on the right track.

Recently, my husband Andy was making arrangements to go to Havana, Cuba in March with a couple of his camera club buddies to capture Cuban culture and diversity. Two of the highlights for the not-for-profit photo shoots will be visiting a boxing club and a dance studio.

While he was planning his trip, he thought it would be a good idea to call a couple of boxing clubs in Niagara to see if they would like to donate used gloves or anything related to boxing that he could take with him to Cuba.

I’m so proud to say the boxing club that stepped up is right here in my community — Napper’s Boxing Club, on Park Street in Welland.

My husband couldn’t believe the generosity and time that was put into organizing a very large package of used boxing equipment for him to take with him. He was overwhelmed by their generosity.

And then, a light bulb went on: I thought maybe I should go to Napper’s and find out what this club is all about.

What sparked my interest was the fact the club was so willing to donate freely without hesitation. I have to admit I am only somewhat of a boxing fan, and I have never been inside of a boxing club or have even seen a live boxing match.

When I opened the door to the club and sat down, I took a deep breath and thought, you know I should go back out and come back in slowly so I can take in the whole experience. So I did just that.

Similar to sometimes in life when we walk through a really great door and think maybe I’ll step out, turn around, and step back in again just in case I missed anything along the way.

OK, so here I am sitting on some good old-fashioned comfy leather seats. I was in awe. There is a large ring at the back of the room, and when I say room it is a huge one.

Two boys were sparring with coaches on the sidelines. There was a female practicing with Jamie Pagendam, a former Olympian who trained at Napper’s. Oh my gosh, how exciting is this going to be, I asked myself.

I finally had a chance to sit with Ray Napper Jr. to do my interview. Here’s what I learned.

Napper’s Boxing and Wrestling Club opened its doors in 1919, just after the First World War. It stayed open for a while. then closed. Some of the longtime Welland residents may remember Napper’s was originally located behind the arena and the Plymouth Park Canteen.

In 1978, the building on Park Street came up for sale and Robert Napper Sr., Ray’s grandfather, bought it and Napper’s Boxing Club was opened.

The building is now 100 years old and Ray Napper Jr. toils full-time as a youth worker and after his shift goes directly to the club to work. I couldn’t tell you how many times during the interview Ray referred to the club as a family.

I can honestly say that some of the boxers male and female were pointed in the right direction in life because of the club.

The boxing club is non-profit and self-sustaining. No one in the family takes an income from the club.

All the coaches volunteer their time and I’m told many youths have been brought out of their shells because of Napper’s Boxing Club.

It’s not always about being competitive, though that certainly is an option. It’s more about becoming a positive, strong and confident person. Each year, Napper’s puts on a boxing show at the Legion branch 4 on Morningstar Avenue in Welland with all costs paid by the Napper family.

There have been so many Olympians, champions and titles won through this club. Ray Napper Jr. himself reached a national championship level. Todd Napper, his brother, was a Canadian champion. Danny Lalonde trained at Napper’s before his fight with Sugar Ray Leonard.

Tom Glesby, a two-time Olympian, trained at Napper’s and former Ontario featherweight champion Dominic (Mimi) Mercuri, who passed in December, trained at Napper’s.

Ray’s grandfather, Robert Napper Sr., was a boxing coach and trainer in the corner at the 1988 Seoul Olympics when Lennox Lewis won his gold medal.

I could go on and on about the history, because Napper’s is filled with all kinds of it and pictures to prove it.

Jeanne has called Welland home for the last 23 years. She works in Welland alongside her husband Andy Glavac of Glavac Financial. Jeanne also teaches cooking and baking classes to children through the Welland Wellness Centre at the Market Square. She enjoys time with her four grandchildren and teeing it up on the links.