Irish Ropes Boxing Gym Closes Doors
As the signs saying "The real fight is outside the ring" was being taken down and the winds of a tropical storm were beginning to howl. A stunned group of supporters assisted with the dismantling of the Irish Ropes boxing gym on Burchell Ave and 72nd street in Arverne as it closed its doors for good on Saturday, September 2, despite last ditch attempts to keep it open.
Owner and co-founder Eddie McLaughlin, who manages top middleweight contender John Duddy and who often trained there, faulted local politicos for ignoring pleas for assistance to help keep the facility open. The city building department had ordered the gym closed, citing zoning violations. McLaughlin is hoping to find another facility in the Arverne area.
News of the closing attracted about 25 adults and children who had found a haven at The Ropes as they helped take apart the two boxing rings and pack away along with all the other standard gym equipment. One of the unusual aspects of Irish Ropes was its ability to attract young and old and Black, White, and Hispanic people in a true melting pot. Anumber of young boxers trained for the Golden Gloves at the Irish Ropes, which was becoming well known throughout the boxing community.
McLaughlin, a native of Ireland, said- "I'm very ticked off. I went to the politicians- Pfeiffer, Sanders, Addabo - all of 'em. They gave me the impression I was just a pain in the butt to them. One excuse after another - you know - the dog ate my homework and upward. If a thing like this was in the middle or upper class neighborhood that was as beneficial to their kids as to the people here I wonder if they wouldn't hang their hat on this."
Long-time Arverne resident Barbara Hillary has been a strong supporter of the gym. Looking at least 15 years younger than her 75 years as a testament to the impact the Ropes has had on her health, Ms. Hillary said, "This gym was the best thing that ever happened.
"The most productive, far-reaching [impact] and it cuts across, and I'm evidence of that, all age levels. This gym serves a need for the community. There has been nothing like this done and I've lived out here for over 20 years. This has been a landmark. It's a sad day and a sad commentary.
"If this was in another part of Rockaway we would not be having this sad occasion. I hold certainly to task the political representatives - Councilman Saunders, State Senator Smith, Representative Meeks - they have shown gross disinterest and have done their constituents and the entire community, especially the young people who need someplace to go, a disservice. I've grown weary of the chin music - we must do something for the young people. Well, something was done and it's being dismantled," Hillary said.
Hitting the speed bag - "I want to give it one last wack" - was Rusty Kearney, a resident of Breezy Point, who is a double amputee below the knees and has been working out at The Ropes, said.
"Eddie is open, a good-hearted guy who put a lot of his own money into this place. There are kids here who need a place to go. Eddie tried to contact politicians and no one seemed to care. It's better to have kids here than going out in the streets and doing things they shouldn't be doing."
Keith Sullivan an attorney, who grew up in Belle Harbor and whose parents still live there, was present at the closing.
"This gym was a real dream and a vision of Eddie McLaughlin and unfortunately the Department of buildings in NYC has chosen to shut it down," Sullivan said.
Sullivan explained that the Ropes are located in a residential zone. Though the building was an active commercial warehouse, the gym is not grandfathered in. Variances have been granted in similar circumstances, but with political clout behind them. "Boxing is a sport that's relegated to low income minority communities," Sullivan said. "If this was a Little League field that was going to be torn down politicians would be lined up out the door.
This gym looks like it's in its final round."
Wave cartoonist Bob Sarnoff who followed a number of Ropes boxers through the Golden Gloves while working on a documentary on the gym and its members, was there with a film crew. As they were leaving, one of the regular Ropes denizens shouted, "We ain't been knocked out yet."
The real fight is outside the ring, indeed!