Women's Golden Gloves Boxing
JAB, HOOK AND UPPERCUT
'IT'S A SMALL CLUB'
Female boxers put in long hours training, but finding opponents is an ongoing challenge
An LNP Report
By STEPHANIE BRADFORD | LNP Correspondent
And SUZETTE WENGER | LNP Photographer
Casey "White Lightning" Barnett used to be a dancer. Now she's spoiling for a fight.
She's not alone.
The Pennsylvania Golden Gloves tournament — which gets underway locally with first-round fights on Saturday at Lancaster Catholic High School — has nine women who are registered to fight in the central Pennsylvania district.
But there is only one women’s bout currently scheduled for Saturday.
Golden Gloves boxer Casey Barnett prepares for an upcoming fight at Finefrock & Stumpf Golden Gloves Center. (Suzette Wenger/LNP)
In that matchup, Barnett (7-2) of Lancaster will face Kayla Hracho (3-3) of Reading.
Barnett and Hracho are well matched in many ways. Both are in their early 20s and are registered in the open class (as opposed to novice, which is for less experienced fighters). Barnett, however, has been training for five years, while Hracho first walked into a boxing gym about a year ago.
But Hracho hasn't stepped into the ring to do more than spar in six months. And Barnett's last fight was in the 2013 Pennsylvania Golden Gloves Regional Championship.
Why the gap between fights?
Hracho says there are simply "not enough girls in this sport."
In 2014, 28,026 male athletes but only 3,237 females were registered with USA Boxing, the national organization that oversees amateur boxing and develops the Olympic boxing team.
So, it took some fancy footwork to make Saturday's fight happen. Women have to deal with the same three-pronged matching system used in all Golden Gloves fights — age, weight and record. Barnett and Hracho agreed to meet in the middle regarding weight. (And, even with that, Saturday’s fight is a non-tournament bout; both women will advance to the next round in Philadelphia in their respective classes.).
Barnett and Hracho have met before, and sparred. Of Hracho, Barnett says, "She's a good technical fighter. I like that with girls. Then it's a real match, not just swinging … a brawl."
Barnett should know. She's trained all over Pennsylvania, including in Philadelphia while studying for her Master's at Drexel. She's sparred with most of the women in the area.
"It's a small club," she says.
TRAINING WITH THE SAME EXPECTATIONS
Last week, the distinct smacking sound of a near-perfect punch hitting a pad resounded over the ropes of the ring at Finefrock & Stumpf Gym, 341 E. Liberty St. in Lancaster. Barnett was an hour into her training session, working pads with trainer Juan Velasquez, and the sound came from her right hook.
She trains in the gym at least three times a week, for three hours at a time, alongside the guys and one other woman, Novice fighter Amy Shkurko. Barnett says she's never been separated from guys, which is good because it means she's been trained with the same expectations. She began her boxing career with the club team at Penn State, which only had about six women on it.
"Ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop was my whole life, but once I started boxing that passion drifted away"
Her first fight came just a few months after she joined the club in her sophomore year (originally in an effort to get a great workout). Snow had prevented traveling schools from getting to a match and Barnett's coaches asked her to fight.
"I might as well try it," she remembers thinking.
Then she won.
"Ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop was my whole life, (but) once I started boxing that passion drifted away," she says.
The dance training is obvious when Barnett steps into the ring, faces the corner, and drops into a grand plié with thoughtless ease.
She's warmed up, skipped rope, worked the bag and pads and now gets to do something rare — spar with a woman she's never met before.
Tiana Medina, a junior at Wilson High School in Reading, drives to Jinji Boxing Club in Lancaster to train. She's been eager to spar at coach Barry Stumpf's gym (which is in the same building as Jinji's).
"It's a magic door that people went through and came out all sweaty," Medina says.
The two women touch gloves, and start throwing punches.
Barnett, at first, keeps her distance, but Stumpf is yelling at her to close in. The coach and his fighter have been working on mixing it up inside and using Barnett's southpaw (left hand) stance to her advantage.
"If you want to win you gotta mix it up," Stumpf says, bluntly.
There are no winners in sparring. Just two fighters trying each other on for size, working their technique, and proving they can dish it out as well as take it.
Barnett gets tagged a few times, but it's nothing to call home about.
It’s unlike the first time she got hit in college. She called her Mom, who told her, "Casey, I don't think this is your sport if you get upset when you get hit."
With a half-smile, Barnett says, "I think I've moved past that."
CHALLENGES OF GETTING FIGHTS
Given the detailed system for setting matchups, which requires the fighters to match up in age, weight class and experience, it’s no wonder finding opponents is difficult for the few female boxers.
But these fighters are used to it. This is the second Golden Gloves tournament for 16-year-old Sammi Verespy (3-4), but she probably won't get a fight until the regional tournament in Philadelphia later this year. The same thing happened to the Hempfield student last year, when she "walked" the district fights (advanced without fighting) and made it to regionals.
"It's upsetting. (You're) training very hard, get in that fight mentality and don't get a fight,” she says. “It's disappointing, but you get over it and move on to the next fight."
And Hracho points out that it’s not just a matter of getting a fight booked. Both boxers still have to show up.
She’s driven as far as upper New York state only to find that her opponent is a no-show.
"As a boxer you train hard and stay ready,” Hracho says. “It's discouraging when your opponent does not show."
‘BOXING IS THE ULTIMATE TEST’
Stumpf wants to make an important point about female boxers.
"They train harder than the guys, they are so much more disciplined,” he says. “They wait for fights, don't get them, but they're still staying in the gym."
In the early 1990s, women sued multiple sports organizations, including USA Boxing, and won the right to box. In 2012, they made it to the Olympics.
They walk into gyms full of guys and drive to fights hours away. They sweat, spar, ice bruises, lower their heads in defeat and raise their gloves in victory.
"I'm doing it for myself,” Hracho says. “It makes me better. Boxing is the ultimate test, physically and mentally.
"You have to give it 100 percent or not do it."
On Saturday, now that they have the chance, she and Barnett will do just that.