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Puttin’ up their dukes

Santa Fe High senior Mauricio Gonzalez works the big bag at a recent team practice. (Courtesy of the Santa Fe Boxing Team)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

For Santa Fe High school senior Mauricio Gonzalez, joining the Demons boxing team a couple of years ago was one of the best things he’s done.

“I was a really shy kid,” he said. “I didn’t really talk to anybody. You could say I’m a little antisocial sometimes.”

Acting anything but, Gonzalez talked about how the sport has helped him.

“My coach, well I have two coaches, really helped me a lot to graduate, and to put me on the right path and keep me motivated educationally,” he said of coach Roger Ferguson, who started the program, and his assistant Daniel Bustos.

“I loved it,” Gonzalez said of the experience. “The people, the environment, the coaching, we have amazing coaches. The teammates, physically, you have your own little family. It’s an amazing environment for perfecting your craft.”

A Santa Fe High teacher, Ferguson said he’s tried creating school boxing teams in the past, but it wasn’t until returning to Santa Fe in 2017 that he finally got the go-ahead from principal Carl Murano. Ferguson said he believes the Demons are not only the sole public high school in the state with a boxing team, but also one of the very few in the country.

Boxing gives the students an outlet they might not be able to find elsewhere, Ferguson said, while also teaching life skills that will be useful as they grow older.

“The discipline part and that aspect of boxing, that has to really appeal to the kids,” he said. “A lot of that has to be internal. We found that our kids, they like that discipline. They’re not finding it in other areas of their life. That’s kind of across the board, regardless of gender, it’s that discipline that boxing brings to the table, we take that and we teach kids to use it as a vehicle for academic success in the classroom.”

The team has just started to work for the spring, meeting twice a week. With it just starting back up, work right now is on conditioning, footwork and fundamentals, using the heavy bag, the speed bag and other tricks of the trade.

Sparring will come next, with a busy summer of training toward the goal of having enough students ready to put on an actual fight card in the fall before a football game, setting up the ring in the middle of the football field.

That has Gonzalez and fellow senior teammate Maria Rivas particularly excited, even though they will both have graduated by then.

Santa Fe High senior Maria Rivas, right, works on her form at a recent boxing team practice. (Courtesy of the Santa Fe Boxing team)

Rivas, who also trains with assistant coach Jennifer Higginbotham, has been on the team almost from its inception. But she’s a veteran of martial arts, having started karate when she was 9.

“Before boxing, I was more timid,” Rivas said. “I was just a nervous ball of energy and I didn’t know what to do with myself, even though I had karate. When I started boxing, I felt I could be myself and I could have more confidence. If I wanted something, I had to go out and get it. I know I can do that because of the discipline.”

It is quite a bit different than karate, she said.

“I thought boxing was an easy sport, which it’s not, and I found out the hard way,” Rivas said with a laugh. “I thought it was kind of the same as in karate. When we sparred, it would be easy. In martial arts, you have kicks and punches, but you’re not hitting each other hard. But, the first time I sparred, you get hit all the time and you get hit in the face. It’s a lot more mental focus. You have to put yourself in sharp focus, even doing bag work. It’s just different from karate.”

That first pop to the face is definitely a wakeup call, Gonzalez said.

“My lips buzzed, my eyes widened, my brain didn’t know what to do, I felt like I was in a dream,” Gonzalez said. “I felt like I was stunned; I sat there on the floor and I didn’t move for a minute. I tasted a little blood on my lip. I thought, ‘Now’s the time to get serious.’ ”

Ferguson was introduced to the sport when he was young and he thought today’s kids could benefit, as well.

“I really thought boxing was a cool sport,” he said. “I boxed when I was kid and in the Marine Corps. When I was in the Marine Corps and we would be deployed, we always would take the boxing gear. It helped things when tension got a little high with people living in tight quarters on ships and things. It was a way to blow off tension.”

Boxing is something Rivas said she can see herself continuing to do.

“I would like to still continue boxing, even after high school,” she said. “Yes, I would. Not professionally, but I would like to help people out in boxing. Even just teaching them the basics and getting them started, because it helps you so much physically and mentally. That’s another thing I like about boxing.”