TRENTON – To put it simply, Barry Sponagle has a lot of experience in the sport of boxing.
Barry Sponagle works with Cameron MacDonald in the ring at the Albion Amateur Boxing Club in Trenton this week. Sponagle has been involved with the Albion club for the past seven years as a coach, but has over 46 years total experience in the sport of boxing. CHRISTOPHER CAMERON – THE NEWS
Editor’s note: For the next number of weeks The News will run a story on the Albion Amateur Boxing Club on Saturdays to celebrate the club’s 25th anniversary.
With 46 years in the sport as boxer and a coach he’s fought with and learned from some of the best boxers in the country and the world. He now brings that experience and knowledge to the Albion Amateur Boxing Club.
The New Glasgow native, now living in Durham, began his career when he was 20 years old as a professional boxer at his brother Wayne’s club in 1967. Although his career was just starting out in the late ’60s, he said he was also involved with coaching.
“Well to tell you the truth we had young fellas, amateurs, way back then in the club and I helped my brother (Wayne) coach them as I was learning myself,” said Sponagle. “I’ve kind of been coaching pretty well as long as I’ve been boxing.”
He said that it was because of the Hafey boys and his brother that he started boxing.
After leaving Pictou County for Ontario when he was 15 years old, Sponagle returned when he was 20. His brother took him to see Lawrence Hafey’s fight shortly after he had moved back home and from that moment he wanted to box.
“My brother, Wayne, who had lived his whole here at home at that point knew the Hafey boys, had seen them box and was going to a fight,” said Sponagle. “We went once to one of the cards when Lawrence was fighting. I really admired Lawrence. He was such a nice person and such a gentleman, the whole family was – I became lifelong friends with all the Hafeys.
“That’s how I kind of got started. It was because of Lawrence and my brother.”
He went on to have a successful career with 66 bouts, winning 42 times with six draws. Sponagle was also the bantamweight and lightweight Canadian champion over that time, but in the late 1970s and early ’80s his focus shifted to coaching. He opened his first registered club in 1982, the Pictonian Amateur Boxing Club, leaning on his prior coaching experience in other clubs over the years.
“I had a really good track record there,” said Sponagle. “Gerard MacIsaac was the recreation director and he helped me a lot and a certainly appreciated his efforts. We kept ’er going pretty well on very little income because at that time I was just happy to get the kids in the club, so I didn’t charge them for anything. I didn’t charge them to train and when we went on trips if the kids had money of their own – but very few did, so I paid for the trip, the meals and all that stuff. That’s kind of how it was done back then.”
Sponagle wasn’t certain about when his club in Pictou closed its doors, but before eventually ending up at the Albion Amateur Boxing Club with Jim Worthen, he ran a small club in Durham for a few years.
“You learn every place you go,” he said. “You learn something new all the time and I watch a lot of boxing on TV. I’ve travelled quite a lot, met a lot of good fighters and fought a lot of good fighters, so I learned from that. I try to teach that to the kids here and they’re all capable of learning and they’re all capable of doing it.”
When asked if he’s ever struggled teaching the sport after his own career, he laughed.
“No, well, I hope not, I hope the kids find it easy to learn from me,” he said. “I like it, well, I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t enjoy it and didn’t feel they were gaining something from me.”
Over his years in the sport, both as a boxer and coach, he said the biggest change has been in the concerns surrounding a boxer’s safety.
“I find the boxing gloves are all sponge filled now,” he said. “Back when we were all fighting around here they were horsehair and they were pretty hard. Headgear is a lot safer and the mouth protectors are better. Everything, all the equipment is better, but of course it’s cause it’s been a long time.”
Now fully involved with the Albion club with fellow coaches Worthen and Al Archibald, he said he remembers coaching Archibald as a youth.
“He was a pretty good little guy when he was boxing and remembers a lot,” said Sponagle. “That’s good to see. I’m really pleased to see Alan doing this. Jim is giving him a little bit of responsibility here and that’s good. I’m glad to see him stepping up and he runs an excellent program with all the exercises he puts the kids through. He really makes them work hard if they keep up with it.”
With the kids involved right now at the club, Sponagle believes there are a few that will be successful. He said he sees himself in a few of them.
“I see that (himself) in all of them if they work hard,” he said. “You try to guide them into having that kind of ability and reflex. You have to work on everything because it’s mental as much as it is physical. You have to always be positive with them and encouraging. Even when they’re doing good you still encourage them because that helps them do even better.
“In this sport, in boxing, it requires 100 per cent. There’s no ifs, ands or buts. It takes that or don’t do it. That’s my personal opinion and I try to let the kids know that and there are some that really take it to heart and apply themselves that way.”
On Twitter: @NGNewsChris