The Brick Township Police Athletic League’s Boxing Program is sending five young competitors ranging from ages 8 to 21 to the prestigious New Jersey Golden Gloves Tournament.

(Left to right) Artie Basciano, Mike Longsworth, Head Coach Berni D'Zurella, Sal Mattia (Ilya Hemlin, Townsquare Media NJ)

Though boxing has been a part of the Brick PAL’s offerings for some time, it’s only since October that the program was taken over by conditioning coach Salvatore Mattia and boxing coach’s Bernie D’Zurrella, Mike Longsworth and Artie Basciano with the focus of creating top tier fighters.

”There were a lot of kids who came in over the summer who really wanted to compete so we put them through a lot of intense training and conditioning programs to weed out who was serious and who wasn’t. The kids that are fighting in the tournament have sacrificed a lot of time and put in a lot of really hard work.” Says Mattia.

21 Year Old Boxer Ryan Leonard Resting Between Sparring Drills (Ilya Hemlin Townsquare Media NJ)

The PAL will have two boxers participating in the Junior Olympic Division of the Golden Gloves (16 and under), and three fighters in the Sub-Novice Division.

Danny Rodriguez, 8, and Franky Leonard, 13, will be in the Junior Olympic Division, while Fritz Ruff, 17, Da-Real Valentine, 19, and Ryan Leonard, 21, will all be fighting in the Sub-Novice Division.

Mattia says for boxers, the Golden Gloves Tournament represents the highest achievement in the sport.

”After that it’s the Olympics. As far any other amateur tournament it’s all about the Golden Gloves. In New York and New Jersey the Golden Gloves are everything.”

While the countless pushup, sparring drills, and jump rope condition the fighters physically, Mattia says the program really develops mental fortitude and maturity.

“Boxing is the most demanding sport because it’s one on one, so when these kids are done with training at the end of the day they’re there one on one. There’s no one to fall back on and no one to bail you out.’ He adds it results in a level of dedication and perseverance not seen elsewhere.

13 Year Old Franky Leonard Jumping Rope (Ilya Hemlin Townsquare Media)

“These kids have to sacrifice a lot and they have to train a lot. These kids are putting in a lot of work, we got teenagers and even these eight and thirteen year old kids instead of going out and playing with their friends they’re coming to the gym. These kids are staying out of trouble and they’re developing a discipline that carries into their school work and personal life.”

For Rudd, the fight is a culmination of a year and a half of training.

“Last February, I came in I really didn’t know anything. I just kept training constantly... .I’m here usually every day.”

Valentine loves the sport because it represents the marriage of physical ability and intelligence.

“It’s not like football where you can be physically gifted, come to practice once or twice in a week and still do good in a game. In boxing there’s more than just physical attributes, you have to work on your skills and IQ.”

19 Year Old Da-Real Valentine Practicing (Ilya Hemlin Townsquare Media NJ)

The Brick PAL doesn’t just serve the township but the entire county, and Mattia says he believes their gym is hosting the most fighters of any in Ocean County.

“The thing about the Police Athletic League which a lot of people don’t understand is that it’s a proactive program, and this is to give kids a place to come and keep them off the streets. As far as the Police Athletic League’s go in the country, the boxing is the pride and joy of every PAL.”

The first matches involving Rudd and Valentine will take place March 9th at Ibn Ali Boxing Club in Newark. Locally, future rounds will also be held in Lincroft, Middletown, and Brielle. The Finals will be held at the Prudential Center April 25th.