Stewart boxing KO’d
December 15, 2006
For nearly three-quarters of a century off and on, Carson City boxers have honed their skills at the Stewart Gym. But not anymore.
With Capitol Police standing by, Victor Bruno was evicted late last week from the gym where he’s coached boxing for the last 12 years.
“It’s a little humiliating the way we have to go, but that’s the way it happens sometimes,” he said. “I lost the battle.”
Bruno said his relationship with the State Buildings and Grounds Department, which manages the building, has been strained over the last couple of years.
His space was cut back after the police academy took over a portion of the gym for training. Citing a lack of staff, in June the department closed the building on the weekends, forcing the club to cancel its Silver State Rumble over the Nevada Day weekend. That event had been held annually for six years.
Also in June, the state changed its insurance requirements.
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Buildings and Grounds Administrator Cindy Edwards said Bruno was advised in advance of the upcoming changes.
Although he later acquired the appropriate insurance, he was told it was too late. The state refuses to reconsider.
“We gave him seven months to work it out,” Edwards said, although Bruno contends he was given three days. “He had plenty of time.”
She said the space won’t be wasted.
“There’s been tons of people wanting to use the gym. His time frame will go to other use groups.”
The gym will remain open for basketball and will continue to house police training and a church group, among other things.
A state representative, accompanied by a Capitol Police officer, unlocked the doors Friday to allow Bruno, along with his grandson Victor Bruno IV and stepson Michael Gascon, to remove all the equipment.
Bruno, who also works for Buildings and Grounds, said he’s looking for another building to house his nonprofit Bruno’s Boxing Club and its 30 members.
After attending the city’s anti-gang coalition meeting Thursday evening, Bruno said he worries some of the boxers may find a negative outlet for their energy without the gym.
“When these kids got time on their hands, you’re gonna have problems,” he said.
He said some of his boxers have been straddling the line between a successful life and gangs. Although he admits he couldn’t save them all, he says he always tried – and will continue to try.
“I turn out some good boxers. I love it,” he said. “But it’s about more than boxing. It was an open-door policy here.
“Everybody was welcome. It didn’t matter who you were or where you came from, you could train with me. I gave them all a chance.”
The end of an era
The boxing team at Stewart Indian School was formed in the late 1930s and went defunct in 1949. In 1969, amateur boxer Robey Willis, now a Carson City justice of the peace, revived the program as its coach.
During its tenure, several notable Nevadans boxed for and against the boxing club, including Paul Laxalt, who went on to be elected as lieutenant governor, governor and senator for the state. His brother Robert Laxalt, who became a Pulitzer-prize winning author, also boxed there.
Willis coached the team from 1969-79, and the school closed in 1980. He then went on to coach for the Police Athletic League until 1987.
The gym that Bruno’s Boxing Club used was built at the school in 1974 and was dubbed “Moccasin Square Garden.”
The following year, members of the Soviet Union boxing team trained there during a match against Team USA at Lake Tahoe.
“It was really something,” Willis recalled.
In 1976, the Olympic trials for the Western United States was held there, and contestants stayed at the Ormsby House.
Willis says boxing left a legacy at the Stewart Indian School that may now be forgotten.
“It’s something somebody in a bureaucratic position may not understand,” he said. “That’s what the east side of the building was built for.
“It’s a crying shame that whoever is in charge is taking this attitude, when boxing has done so much for so many kids.”
He worries what the repercussion may be for the displaced youths.
“When so many kids are using meth or joining gangs, and somebody is trying to help kids, it’s pretty narrow-minded to shut that down.”
And, he says, boxing has important lessons to teach.
“It’s an independent sport,” he said. “If you make a mistake, you’re the one who’s going to pay for it. In life, you’re responsible for your mistakes.”
Bruno, 55, a boxer who had moved to Carson City from Southern California and was using the gym to work out, was asked in 1994 to become the coach.
The team later changed its name from the Stewart Braves to the Carson City Boxing Club to reflect its more diverse membership.
The club, coached by Bruno, Everett “Chuck O.” Williams and Frank Peralta, trained at the National Guard armory, but when the guard left in 2002, the state kicked out the boxing club.
Since then, the gym has remained empty. Peralta then moved the Carson City Boxing Club to a building on Highway 50, where they still train.
At the same time, Bruno left the club to create Bruno’s Boxing Club, which trained at Stewart.
As time went by, the gym was known as a place where all races and cultures came together.
“There’s Indians, whites, Mexicans, everybody gets together here,” said Victor Bruno IV, 16. “I’ve been boxing here forever.”
Gascon, 15, said he was brought up by boxing.
“I wouldn’t be me without it.”
For the last two months, the club has been locked out of the gym, making training difficult.
“I go running sometimes and I shadow box, but there’s not much you can do.”
When the two took a moment Friday to hit the bag one last time in the gym, the state employee directed them to stop.
For now, Bruno’s boxing equipment is spread out between his home, backyard and his son’s home. Other items were donated to different organizations.
He’s not sure where he’ll go, or what he’ll do. He wants to be somewhere by January.
“My club is a winning club. We win about 80 percent of our fights.”
He’s considering renting a building, but, for the first time, he’d have to charge his boxers a fee. He funds his club through the Nevada Athletic Commission and, often, out of his own pocket.
“All those little guys who don’t have money, they won’t be there,” he said.
He’s hoping the community will come together to find a solution.
“Boxing’s always been this town’s football.”
• Contact reporter Teri Vance at email@example.com or 881-1272.