Saturday, September 12, 2015

Set It Back Saturday: Alfaro Moves On With Angels In Mind

Twenty miles from the bandbox boxing gym at  Lincolnway Sports Center in York, Pa., where New Oxford boxer Josue Alfaro infuses Julio Alvarez’ program with an arsenal of power punches, are wistful reminders of a nightmarish traffic accident.

On route 94 in Hamilton Township, two miles north of New Oxford High School, five New Oxford High School students were killed on Dec.5, 2011.

The victims, in a black Saturn passenger car, crossed the center line before slamming head-on into a southbound truck.

 The truck, carrying an empty horse trailer, collided with the car at the intersection of 700 Road in Hamilton Township.

The accident occurred around 3 PM. An hour later, Alfaro was immersed in an intense one-on-one training session with Alvarez at Lincolnway.

Alvarez, who has nurtured a steady crop of local talent—West York legend Carney “Beeper” Bowman (16-1), Steve Weimer (9-0), and Eric Nemo (10-1) to name a few—was imploring Alfaro to shed his habit of gunning for the head and instead dig into the body.

 “You’ve got to go for the kidney shot, son,” Alvarez said, motioning his hands towards the kidneys as sweat poured down his prodigy’s face profusely.

“You’re a banger, but you’ve got to work the body. You’ve got to be a smart, cerebral fighter, and use your power.”

Though only 5-foot-5, Alfaro’s blink-quick jabs, punching power, and ability to twist and duck out of a punching barrage makes up for his smurf-small stature.

As Jay-Z’s “Feeling It” blared from the speakers of a thoroughly dusted boombox near the gym’s entrance, Alfaro continued to execute power punches.

Suddenly, a loud voice shrieked through the gym. Emanating from Lincolnway’s gym are the repetitive clang of weights clashing, the constant pops of punches flying at bags and helmets, and voices that stream from the ring to the locker room. During this dramatic moment, however, the noise was suddenly interrupted.

A longtime gym attendant, known as Jerry, lowered the music and announced to the gym that a car crash had just occurred in New Oxford.

“There was a huge crash near New Oxford High School!” Jerry shouted to the busload of high school and college-aged kids.

 “It’s not good. Sounds like a couple of kids were killed. Teenagers. Horrible.”

Alfaro didn’t know what to think or believe. He didn’t get tangled up in thought. Shy and pin-drop quiet by nature, Alfaro didn’t ask any questions. He continued his session, figuring he would learn the details soon enough.

When Alfaro got home and researched the accident on Google, he received his own punch to the gut. As he scanned an online news report, he felt himself tremble as he saw the names written across the screen. A pit slowly developed in his stomach as he re-read the names.

 Oscar Banda. Anthony Campos. Diego Aguilar. Casey Sheridan. Chelsea McFalls.

Aguilar and Campos had grown up with Alfaro. The friendship tightened when they attended New Oxford High School. Over the summer, Alfaro would bring his boxing gloves and take turns sparring with Campos and Aguilar.

 “It didn’t seem real at first,” said Alfaro, who is 12-5 as an amateur. “It was just tough to understand.”

Having already developed an advanced set of tools from constant work with Alvarez, Alfaro instilled in his friends the niceties of boxing. During the summer of 2011, their interest in the sport heightened. The three would spend hours trading shots, engaging in some consistent sparring under the boiling sun. Then, the scene would loosen up and laughter would take over.

It’s the fondest memories Alfaro has of his two close friends.

It’s been a 15 months since the horrifying accident. Alfaro’s coping skills have grown at the same pace as his fighting technique. Though he has mourned the losses, he said a spiritual side has blossomed within him.

“He obviously took it very hard,” said Alvarez. “Those were tough times for him. But I think he now looks at life from a different perspective. He knows there is no telling when you are going to go. You’ve got to live now and I think he’s embraced that mentality. You live life now.”

Fitting, because now appears to be Josue Alfaro’s time.

“His punching power is awesome,” Alvarez explained. “He wants to turn professional as soon as possible. Right now he needs to lose nine pounds before he fights next weekend.”

Alvarez is referring to the Golden Gloves Central District tournament at 7 p.m. March 15 at Cross Keyes Motor Inn and Convention Center in New Oxford.

Just as he did last year, Alfaro will fight to honor his fallen friends.

Alfaro believes his fallen friends are looking down on him. He believes the higher power has shown them a new door. He reminds himself of this every morning before school, as he gazes into a collage of pictures of all five students. The collage, which Alfaro carefully crafted together shortly after the accident, sits on the drawer in his bedroom.

“Not one day goes by when he doesn’t think about it,” says Alvarez. “How can you not?”

A stoic individual who Alvarez said rarely expresses emotion in or out of the ring, Alfaro said he’s used the losses as motivation.

The Next In Line

A booming voice echoed across the gym when Alfaro was training.

“My boy is fighting grown men now. He’s fighting with the big dogs now!”

It’s Stevie Weimer. The York College senior is 9-0 as a professional and has helped to push Alfaro’s ascent. Weimer, slated to graduate from York in May, is taking a brief hiatus to finish all of his credits.

Through sparring and imparting his own wisdom, Weimer described Alfaro as a boxing old soul.

“There’s no ceiling on this kid’s potential,” Weimer said.. “I mean out of the young kids here, he’s the one always working and refining his skills. He’s strictly about business. He keeps his head on straight, and that’s critical in boxing.

Weimer said the boxing business can be a roller coaster. But he said Alfaro has a "workmanlike quality and focus about him."

In Alvarez, Weimer’s words resonate.

“I would say his best attribute is his attitude,” explained Alvarez. “He’s disciplined, he’s tough, he never questions anything.”

Lincolnway’s gym doubles as a virtual picture library.

Carney “Beeper” Bowman is the face of the gym. Framed pictures of Beeper posing with Floyd Mayweather, Mike Tyson, bikini-clad ring girls, and the rapper Jadakiss adorn the walls.

Pictures of Bowman fighting in rings from Vegas to Ocean City, Md., to L.A. are penned with the location, the fight, and the date. Beeper, like Alfaro, is a lightweight who thrives with power and interior banging.

Growing up in West York, Beeper played basketball, football, baseball, and ice hockey.

“I tried a bit of everything, but boxing is my heart,” said Bowman. Bowman’s father, Carney II, was a reputed boxer out of York High. Being in his father’s corner at an early age, working under Alvarez’ since age 10, and sparring with top-flight professionals such as Mike Garcia (with whom he lived and trained in Los Angeles), has helped accelerate Bowman’s production.

“It’s been all guidance,” said Bowman of his father and Julio’s presence.

Bowman turned professional in 2004, after the Olympic Trials.

Alvarez says Alfaro has already developed a professional style.

“He has a lot of natural talent, his style is too much of a professional style though,” explained Alvarez. “That doesn’t go well with amateurs, because more punches equals more points. In amateurs it’s all about how many punches you throw.”

Dad Knows Best

Jose’s father, Candido Alfaro, said he knew how to scrap from an early age. Growing up on Mexico City’s mean streets, fighting was a method of survival and Candido Alfaro was a known street fighter.

Candido did not want his son to live through the same struggles that he did, surviving in a congested household and earning street credit to avoid gang violence.

However, he did want Josue to become disciplined and channel the abundance of energy he noticed in his son from an early age. Karate was Jose’s first passion. Then, one fall evening in 2007, his whole world changed.

“My Dad and I were driving around, talking about a new hobby for me to take up,” the younger Alfaro said. “I was in karate previously and I wanted to get into something again. I was always aggressive.

"My Dad and I drove by a boxing gym, Glory gym in Gettysburg. We got there and as soon as we arrived, it was closed. I was kind of a shy kid back then. So, I was kind of glad that it was closed. I figured we would go home and I would never see that gym again. At that moment, I was actually thinking about joining karate again and didn’t really want to start something from the very beginning.”

Just as Candido was ready to drive away, a black pickup truck pulled in. Boxing coach Joe Lindsay got out. The coach and Alfaro’s father engaged in a brief conversation, and Josue was sold on the sport.

“If he’d arrived half a minute later, we would have been gone and I would have never joined boxing," Josue said. "It was kind a by-chance thing. I went and made something of it.”

At March 15 at Cross Keyes, with his heart and mind engaged in the fight but also hanging on to his fallen classmates, Josue Alfaro will make the most of his opportunity.

“My technique is to kind of weigh you down,” Alfaro said. “I can take a lot of punches. I move around a lot but I’ll wear you down.

"My specialty is my power punches. Once you kind of get worn down, I just get you in a corner.”

After the grief he has faced, it's unlikely any opponent will hit him harder than the cause for which he always fights.