Photo Credit Carl Russo
HAVERHILL — Boxing is back in Haverhill.
Several weeks ago, the Haverhill Downtown Boxing Club celebrated its first Golden Gloves champion — 17-year-old Shingirayi "Shin" Murinda, a junior at Haverhill High School.
Since then, an even younger fighter from the club won a coveted title.
Andrew Paltinavich, 13, was crowned this year's Silver Mittens champion in his division.
The Silver Mittens competition is open to boxers ages 10 to 16. It is considered the junior version of the well-known Golden Gloves amateur boxing championship, where the minimum age to compete is 17.
"The kids are dedicated and we're finally coming into our own," club owner and head trainer Ray Hebert said. "In previous years, we've had seven kids in the Golden Gloves and five or six in the Silver Mittens without a winner.
"Then we had Duncan last year,'' he said of 16-year-old Duncan McNeil, the club's first Silver Mittens champion who won in 2016, ''followed by Shin and Andrew this year. It's the hard work they are putting in. It takes a lot of work to become a champion."
Two organizations — the Haverhill Downtown Boxing Club and the Haverhill Inner City Boxing Club — have brought boxing back in Haverhill in recent years. The clubs are drawing young people, keeping them off the streets while teaching them good exercise and health habits.
Some of them also gain the skills to compete at a high level in the ring.
Hebert said he usually sends five or six boxers to the Silver Mittens each year. At this year's event, held at the Billerica Elks March 9 and 16, the only boxer from Hebert's club was Andrew Paltinavich. He first beat Brandon Aiella of Springfield in a split decision during the semifinals on March 9.
"I won two rounds. He won one round," Andrew said. "I didn't throw enough punches. It was a pretty hard fight."
Andrew said he returned to the gym and Hebert instructed him to practice punching non-stop for a minute and a half each time.
"I was sparring with Shin Murinda, who really helped get me ready," Andrew said of the club's Golden Gloves champ. "And my trainer Brandan Simonds was in the corner telling me what to do. I sparred with him (Murinda) every day and, since he hits a lot harder and he's a lot faster than me, he really helped me prepare."
At the Silver Mittens, Andrew fought at a body werght of 90 pounds in the open class, which requires boxers to have more than 10 previous fights.
"I fought Mike Santana from the 978 Gym in Lawrence and won in a unanimous decision," Andrew said. "I threw a lot of punches and I think it was my best fight yet."
Hebert said it was probably the best fight of the night as both are good fighters.
"It was a great boxing match between two young kids," Hebert said.
Andrew started boxing at Hebert's club about three years ago.
Michael Paltinavich said his son Andrew was just 8 years old when he started getting into fights with other kids after being bullied a lot.
"He had a short temper and I was trying to figure out how to turn things around in a positive manner," the elder Paltinavich said. "When Andrew was 10, a friend of mine suggested Ray's boxing club, and Andrew loved the idea. It was a good way to take out his frustration without getting into trouble.
"Ray is always telling the kids that if they fight on the street they get kicked out of the club," Michael Paltinavich said. "It's turned Andrew around 100 percent. Coming to the club has changed every bit of him and I can't be more proud of him than I am."
Andrew entered the Silver Mittens last year at a body weight of 70 pounds, but there was no one in his weight class for him to box.
A seventh-grader at Whittier Middle School, Andrew spent a lot of time in Hebert's gym preparing for this year's Silver Mittens competition.
"I was there six days a week, after I get home and after I did my homework," Andrew said.
Hebert said boxing comes second to school, and his club members know it.
"We have a rule here: If you don't do good in school, you can't fight in any tournament," Hebert said. "I try to run it like school, as school is more important that boxing."
Andrew said boxing has become an important part of his life and that Hebert's gym is like a second home.
"I'd rather be at the gym than home watching TV or playing video games," Andrew said.
As his reward for winning the Silver Mittens, Andrew received a pair of boxing gloves, a trophy and a red jacket that displays the words "Silver Mittens."
"I wear it everywhere I go," said Andrew, who is preparing for another fight at the Billerica Elks on March 31.
He is also planning to box in a Junior Olympics event in April.