Five decades and count­ing

Teach­ing box­ing and life skills an on­go­ing pas­sion for Spona­gle

The Prince George Citizen - - Sports - Ted CLARKE Ci­ti­zen staff

For 52 years, Wayne Spona­gle has been train­ing ath­letes how to put up their dukes.

The city’s long­est-serv­ing box­ing coach doesn’t do it for the money. He knows it usu­ally costs him more than he’ll ever get back just to keep the doors open at the Spruce Cap­i­tal War­riors Box­ing Club.

For four days a week, from 5:15 to 7:15 p.m., Spona­gle comes di­rectly from his full­time job as an au­to­body me­chanic to teach the sport he grew up lov­ing in New Glas­gow, N.S.

He’s the men­tor for a group of about 20 box­ers aged 14-35. Most come for their nightly work­outs to reap the fit­ness ben­e­fits and the con­fi­dence that comes with learn­ing how to fight. They might never climb into the ring for a real-life box­ing match but un­der Spona­gle’s watch, chances are they’ll leave the gym as bet­ter peo­ple.

Spruce Cap­i­tal, a mem­ber of Box­ing BC, op­er­ates out of a base­ment workspace next to the JYSK fur­ni­ture store at Brook­wood Plaza on Walls Av­enue and the club gets that space rent-free cour­tesy of Brook­wood Prop­er­ties owner Gary Vale, who told Spona­gle it’s his gym as long as he wants it.

“Peo­ple ask me, ‘Why do you keep do­ing it?’” said Spona­gle.

“Kids never cease to amaze me and if there’s any kid who wants to learn the sport of box­ing I want to make sure they get the right start. Af­ter a year or two they have the ba­sics, and they tell me, ‘We learn about life, Wayne.’

“Most peo­ple have no idea what some­one like my­self does for their kid and how box­ing plays an im­por­tant part in their life, whether they fo­cus on com­pet­ing or not.”

Be­fore he moved to Prince Ge­orge in 1978, Spona­gle was the long­time cor­ner­man for his brother Barry, a two-time Cana­dian ban­tamweight pro cham­pion in the early ’70s. Wayne started the East-West Box­ing Club in Prince Ge­orge and came over to Spruce Cap­i­tal when he moved back to the city in 1992 and has been part of the club ever since.

He’s trained the likes of Thomas Speirs, Mar­cus Hume, Lau­rie Mann, Al­lan Bayne, Todd Hat­ley and his own son Ge­orge to na­tional and in­ter­na­tional suc­cess and in 2010 was in­ducted into the Prince Ge­orge Sports Hall of Fame.

Spona­gle says he has one young boxer – Brody Beetle­stone – show­ing plenty of prom­ise and drive but he’s see­ing fewer and fewer box­ers in his gym will­ing to com­mit the time, train­ing and trav­el­ling it takes to be­come reg­u­lars on the pro­vin­cial scene, fight­ing their way to the top so they can take that next step to the na­tional level. In fact, he says he hasn’t seen any­one with that kind of ded­i­ca­tion since Speirs and Hume used their Spruce Cap­i­tal train­ing as a spring­board to con­sec­u­tive years as na­tional con­tenders and an even­tual break into the world of pro box­ing.

Some nights there are only three or four bod­ies lac­ing up their gloves. Other nights he’ll have 14 or 15 box­ers work­ing the speed bags, skip­ping rope or spar­ring in the ring.

“It fluc­tu­ates – some kids you see them two or three days in a row and then you don’t see them for three weeks,” he said.

“Thomas and Mar­cus were the last two that re­ally got into it, they got you ex­cited be­cause of their en­thu­si­asm. For the first time in my life it’s be­com­ing a chore to go to the gym. I’m think­ing about my only great-grand­child and spend­ing more time with him.”

Spona­gle turns 73 at the end of the month. He had quadru­ple heart by­pass surgery four years ago, just af­ter Speirs and Hume had their last pro fights. Speirs now works as a roofer in Prince Ge­orge and just bought and ren­o­vated his own house and Hume has also found suc­cess as a trades­man, now work­ing in Cal­gary as a brick­layer. Both are hard work­ers, just like they were in the box­ing ring, and Spona­gle says there’s no deny­ing the lessons they learned in the ring shaped that work ethic.

“Box­ing played such an im­por­tant role in their lives and it helped them get to where they are,” Spona­gle said. “It gave them the tools.”

• The lo­cal sport­ing com­mu­nity is sad­dened by the news that long­time lo­cal box­ing coach Betty Clark died Tues­day dur­ing emer­gency surgery. Clark, a Level 5 coach, took over the club af­ter Spona­gle left in 1988, when he moved back to Nova Sco­tia. She re­named it Shaolin Box­ing Club and also over­saw Co­bra Kick­box­ing, both based at the Connnaught Youth Cen­tre.

Kids never cease to amaze me and if there’s any kid who wants to learn the sport of box­ing I want to make sure they get the right start.

— Wayne Spona­gle

CI­TI­ZEN FILE PHOTO

Wayne Spona­gle, now 72, gives in­struc­tions to one of his Spruce Cap­i­tal War­riors box­ers dur­ing a fight card in Prince Ge­orge in March 2013.

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