CLCF boxing already provides a unique opportunity for its members as one of the only youth boxing programs in the state of Rhode Island.
Two weeks ago, it really made a splash.
Following the conclusion of its final Wednesday night session on March 13, CLCF welcomed in Cranston’s own Vinny Pazienza, the former five-time World Champion and Olympian, to talk and sign autographs for the kids.
Pazienza, known as “Vinny Paz,” stayed for over an hour, signing everything from t-shirts to pictures that he handed out to the kids.
“I thought it was real cool that he came back and gave some time,” CLCF boxing director Rick MacDonald. “It was pretty cool that the old champ came back home.”
Pazienza started his boxing career at CLCF back in the 1960’s before becoming one of the most decorated boxers in the northeast. He finished his career with a 50-10 record.
With the CLCF program still going 40 years after Pazienza participated, Jim Mancuso, another member of the program, had reached out to Pazienza recently to see if he would be interested in coming in and meeting with some of the kids, who are between the ages of seven and 12.
He was interested – as he, Mancuso and MacDonald had all been on the same Little League team back in the 70’s – and made an appearance just as the kids were finishing up. Before he came, some of the kids weren’t quite sure about the Cranston legend. Macdonald gave them a little lesson.
“One of the little kids who I had sitting on the mat in the basketball court said, ‘Who’s Vinny Paz?’ I said Vinny Paz was a young Cranston boy who grew up in this program and played plenty of sports,” MacDonald said. “He’s also a professional boxer, retired, won five world titles. And he was also an amateur boxer on the Olympic team. Then, they knew.”
That got them excited for Pazienza’s appearance, and the kids chanted “Vinny, Vinny” as he walked in the door.
Wearing his Cranston East Thunderbolts hat, Vinny spoke to the roughly 40 kids – there are usually about 50 per session, but a few had left – and left his mark.
“I told the kids that Vinny Paz went to Cranston East and he was an A-B student,” MacDonald said. “It was a positive thing for the kids to see that.”
The program, which runs once a week for three-and-a-half months to teach instructional boxing, came to a close with a night to remember.
“I said Vinny, ‘You made the kids’ night, and you came back home,’” MacDonald said.